More Babies are Being Born Addicted to Opiates

Newborn baby

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of U.S. babies born addicted to opioids has increased by more than three-hundred percent in the last fifteen years. This is a problem that has many people wondering, “How on earth did we get here? How is that our babies are being born addicted to drugs?”

These findings point to a clear and present need for more effective treatment of pregnant mothers who are addicted to drugs, a demographic that struggles immensely with opioid dependence at higher rates than non-pregnant women do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incidents of neonatal abstinence syndrome jumped to six incidences per one-thousand births in 2013. The number had initially been only one and a half incidences per one-thousand births in 1999. While this increase occurred on a nationwide level, some states were hit harder than others. In West Virginia for example, thirty-three babies were born with addiction and withdrawal symptoms for every one-thousand births in 2013.

The Effect of Opioid Dependence on Babies and Mothers

Babies who suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS, experience turmoil unlike any other. Such babies experience gastrointestinal dysfunction, temperature instability, central nervous system problems, tremors, seizures, etc. Babies suffering from NAS often have to be kept in the intensive care units of hospitals for weeks while their conditions are stabilized, lest they experience more severe phenomena.

When a pregnant mother is wheeled into a hospital to give birth to her baby, this should be a joyous and exciting time, not a grim and worrisome one. Most pregnant mothers who are addicted to opiates are stereotyped because of the effects their addictions are having on their newborns, but these are not just heroin junkie mothers we are talking about here. In fact, most opioid-addicted pregnant mothers are actually hooked on pharmaceutical opioid painkiller pills or methadone, both of which are drugs that are supposed to help people, not hinder pregnancies and make infant newborns suffer tremendously.

Newborn baby inside an incubator

The Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome problem is not just a problem that affects the babies and their mothers either. This is a problem for all of us. A baby born with NAS will need a three to four-week hospital stay, something that costs tens of thousands of dollars. As few opiate-addicted mothers are in a position to pay for such treatment, state Medicaid programs have to cover about eighty percent of the charges. Those charges total about one and a half billion dollars in total medical costs, costs that are levied onto U.S. taxpayers for state Medicaid programs to contend with.

We Need to Create a Better Future for Newborns

What kind of a life starts with the first month spent in agony? Not only that, but new research is just starting to trickle in of people who had been born with NAS ten to twenty years ago, and the kinds of health problems they still face to this day. The grim truth of it is that we are just now seeing some of the long-term effects of babies being born with NAS, and the kinds of struggles they may face even as adults.

This has to change. Babies are the most innocent of us all, and they deserve a far better start in life than a chemical dependence to opiates. It’s up to us to demand change and a different approach to how our country handles pain and pain problems. Only in creating real progress and real change for the better can we start working towards non-opiate based approaches to pain relief, something that pregnant mothers absolutely need.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.