Week old infant weighing 430 grams,
Authors Aneta Meszko and Marcin Meszko (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)
WARNING: Graphic Images
“In America, a baby is born dependent on opioids every 19 minutes [1A]”.
In the past ten years, over 130,000 children in the United States have been born with drug dependency inherited from a mother on heroin, methamphetamine, or opioids [1B].
Called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, this dependency causes poor feeding and suck reflex, with slow weight gain; vomiting; diarrhea; sweating; muscle cramps, seizures, and twitching; irritability; sleep problems; yawning, stuffy nose, and sneezing; along with shortness of breath .
Infants, in other words, experience many of the same withdrawal symptoms their mothers do . They cry inconsolably from the pain.
While one study found that pre-natal drug exposure was not associated with increased mortality, it did find significantly higher mortality rates among low birth weight infants positive for cocaine and opiates .
Lack of Care
“In one case, a baby in Oklahoma died after her mother, high on methamphetamine and opioids, put the 10-day-old girl in a washing machine with a load of dirty laundry [1C].”
The risk to addicted newborns does not stop there. Infants all too often die after being released home to mothers struggling with drug addiction.
Reuters has identified at least 110 such cases [1D]. More than 40 infants suffocated. Another 13 died after swallowing fatal doses of heroin, methadone, oxycodone, and other opioids.
In three-quarters of these cases, the mother was implicated in her child’s death; in other instances, a boyfriend, husband, or other relative was responsible [1E].
For those addicted infants who do survive, health and developmental problems are in store. The long-term effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome can include hearing and vision difficulties, as well as learning and behavioral issues.
Keeping Children Safe
“A mother who abuses methadone or other legal opioids can be just as dangerous to her newborn as a parent high on heroin [1F].”
The federal Keeping Children and Families Safe Act (2003) urges states to protect drug addicted infants. In theory, health care providers alert child protective services. Social workers then take measures to keep newborns safe after their discharge from hospital.
Unfortunately, most states are not in compliance.
In an effort to relieve health care providers from liability, at least 36 states have policies which do not require physicians to report each case. Many states do not require reporting if the mother is taking methadone, pain medication, or other narcotics prescribed by her physician.
Because so many drug addicted infants go unreported, no one knows precisely how many children are killed or injured by addicted parents [1G].
[1A – 1G] Reuters, “Helpless and Hooked” by Duff Wilson and John Shiffman, 12/7/15, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/baby-opioids/.
 March of Dimes, “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)”, https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/neonatal-abstinence-syndrome-(nas).aspx.
 Wikipedia, “Neonatal withdrawal”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neonatal_withdrawal.
 American Addiction Centers, “Drug Withdrawals Symptoms, Timelines, and Treatment” by Amelia Sharp, 9/3/20, https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments.
 Pediatrics, “Mortality Within the First 2 Years in Infants Exposed to Cocaine, Opiate, or Cannabinoid During Gestation” by Enrique Ostrea et al, July 1997, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/100/1/79.
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