Monday, October 14, 2013

Tenn. spike in drug-dependent newborns is warning to nation

JoNel Aleccia NBC News
Oct. 11, 2013

On an average day, neonatal nurse practitioner Carla Saunders faces two dozen babies born hooked on drugs, infants so sick with the pain of withdrawal that they cry nonstop, claw their faces and writhe in agony at the sound of a voice or the touch of hand. But that’s just the average.

“Today, it may be even higher,” says Saunders, who staffs the 60-bed intensive care unit at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, Tenn. “It’s been as high as 37.”

The babies are part of a grim trend in Tennessee, where a new report shows that the number of newborns dependent on drugs their mothers took during pregnancy is higher than ever — and experts say it should be a warning to the rest of the nation.

“At the current rate this epidemic is progressing, we are projecting more than 800 drug-dependent newborns by the end of this year,” said Dr. John Dreyzehner, the commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health.

Already this year, the Volunteer state has counted more babies born with symptoms of withdrawal from opiates — a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS — than they saw in all of 2011.


Overall, an estimated 13,539 babies were born with NAS in the U.S. in 2009 -- or about one every hour-- according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That’s nearly triple the number in 2000, researchers said.


America’s prescription drug abuse problem is no secret. Drug overdoses have exceeded motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. since 2009. Some 17,000 people die each year from opiate overdoses, more than quadruple the number a decade ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


“In general, they are crying 24/7. They are inconsolable,” Saunders said. They claw at their faces, they have tremors, they go rigid with pain and stress. The babies have trouble eating and suffer from frequent diarrhea, which leaves their bottoms bleeding and raw.

Caregivers try to ease the babies through withdrawal, which can take about a week, with soothing care, including swaddling and rocking in dark, quiet rooms. But many infants have to be dosed with morphine or methadone, also opiates, and then slowly weaned off the drugs.


Anger is the natural reaction of many who encounter drug-affected babies writhing in pain, but Saunders and other health experts said that reaction doesn’t help anyone. Even a short course of opiates can lead to dependence and many pregnant women can’t stop ‘cold turkey,’ she said.

“Any one of us is an accident away from being an addict,” she said.


No comments:

Post a Comment