Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) comprises a group of conditions that develop when babies withdraw from drugs — usually narcotics — that they’re exposed to in the womb prior to birth, according to the March of Dimes. Now, research published in JAMA indicates that a connection exists between socioeconomic factors and the prevalence of NAS in newborns. Here’s a closer look at NAS, the research, and what can be done to reverse this troubling trend.
The 411 on NAS
NAS typically occurs when expecting mothers take opioids during their pregnancies, thereby passing the drugs along through the placenta to their unborn children. Signs and symptoms of NAS may include tremors, seizures, overactive reflexes and tight muscle tone; fussiness and excessive crying; poor feeding and slow weight gain; breathing problems, fever, swearing and blotchy skin; trouble sleeping; diarrhea; throwing up; and a stuffy nose and/or sneezing.
The type of symptoms experienced depend on a number of factors, including what drug was used and to what degree, how the mother’s body breaks down the drug, and whether the baby was born prematurely.
NAS may also put babies at increased risk of complications, including low birth weight, jaundice, birth defects, and the need for intensive care after birth. Treatment of NAS includes taking medication to manage withdrawal, getting ample fluids, and drinking high-calorie baby formula to make up for difficulty feeding or slow growth.
Poor Economic Conditions, Higher NAS Rates
After collecting extensive data from eight states over a six-year period, research determined that areas with poor economic conditions had proportionally higher incidences of NAS. Specifically, higher rates of long-term unemployment and a shortage of mental health professionals were determined to be contributing factors.
Says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the findings, “There is no clear consensus as to why the lack of economic opportunity contributes to the increased misuse of opioids in any given county, only that economic conditions might contribute to the high rates of NAS.” Still, the findings underscore the need for accurate reporting of the mother’s drug usage in order to help with treatment planning.
Healthier Mothers, Healthier Babies
If you’re pregnant and using a drug that can cause NAS, it’s important to tell your doctor right away. However, do not stop taking the drug without talking to your healthcare provider as “going cold turkey” can lead to serious problems for your baby, including death. In many cases, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for mothers can facilitate better outcomes for babies.
The good news, according to Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital? “Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a totally preventable problem. However, it requires that a mother stop using drugs before pregnancy, or as soon as she learns she is pregnant if her doctor believes it is safe to do so.”
Birth control is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and NAS among substance abusers. If you use drugs and are thinking of becoming pregnant, seeking treatment can be the key to an addiction-free life and a healthy baby. Contact us at Harris House today to learn about our targeted substance abuse treatment programs.