Why So Many Babies Are Born Addicted

A look at the painkiller epidemic and its generational impact.

A new study conducted by the University of Michigan and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that the number of babies born with addictions to prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade. Tennessee and Florida, the study says, have especially high rates of children being born addicted to opiate-based painkillers or to heroin or morphine. In Florida, the study notes, a state some people already refer to as the “pill mill” state and home to the so called “Oxy-Express”.

The occurrence of babies born addicted to drugs has increased substantially—500 percent—in the last half decade or so. The Tennessee Department of Human Services reports that the first decade of the millennium saw the rate of children born with addiction to an opiate-based drug multiply by 10 times. The University of Michigan study estimates that one baby is born addicted to some sort of opiate every hour in the U.S. and that 13,539 babies are born with NAS [Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome] each year.

How Are Babies Born Addicted to Drugs?

Being born addicted to drugs is medically known as Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome [NAS], a condition that results when mothers use opiate based painkillers or other sorts of opiates like heroin or morphine during pregnancy and the child becomes addicted in utero, is born. They then subsequently suffer withdrawal symptoms as the drug supply once provided by the mother disappears.

According to health professionals, not all mothers who are addicted or abusing opiate based drugs have babies who are addicted. Health professionals report that the symptoms—malnourishment, unwillingness or inability to eat, diarrhea, seizures and tremors, practically allergic to light and any sort of physical contact—are very painful and cause babies with NAS to suffer a great deal. Babies with NAS are often given methadone, itself very addictive, to help wean them from other opiate addictions. NAS babies are kept in the neo-natal intensive care unit under close supervision, not by their mothers and fathers, but by doctors and nurses, who watch vigilantly to try and minimize future complications to the child’s health that can arise from NAS.

The average hospital stay for a baby with NAS is 16 days, and the average cost of the stay is $53,000. It is often the case, experts say, that children born with NAS end up in child protective services.

What is Causing This

The data in the study also suggests that whereas in the 80’s doctors were seeing a spike in babies born addicted to crack or cocaine, that now babies are much more often addicted to opiates and specifically opiate-based prescription pain medications like Vicodin or Oxycontin. While addicted mothers can and do get these prescription medications through illicit channels, via theft or the black market, the study found that over 60 percent of the Tennessee women who gave birth to babies with NAS were using the drugs legally and with a valid prescription from a legitimate doctor. They were, so to speak, under doctor’s order, and still their babies were born addicted to powerful and dangerous drugs.

According to some lawmakers in Florida, Narconon Vista Bay and our other facilities, the way forward is not through the incarceration of addicted mothers but through education and treatment programs that can help to prevent the occurrence of NAS in the first place. Some health care professionals and experts would suggest, given the problem with mothers becoming addicted to medications prescribed by their doctors, that the prescription process needs to be re-evaluated to make it safer and more effective.