25 May How Do Addicted Newborns Fare as Adults?
Researchers estimate that a baby is born every hour in the United States to a mother who abused prescription painkillers like oxycodone during her pregnancy. Many of these infants became physically dependent on painkillers while in utero, and experience severe withdrawal symptoms once they are born and the drug begins to leave their systems.
Withdrawal is a painful experience for anyone recovering from drug dependency, but it can be life threatening for newborns. The symptoms that may appear in infants born with drug dependencies are collectively known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). There are many possible symptoms that may appear in these circumstances, but some of the most worrisome are fever, vomiting, slow weight gain and seizures. NAS is also associated with higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome.
Repeated vomiting can lead infants to become malnourished and dehydrated. Serious symptoms may require treatment with medications like morphine or methadone that allow patients to be gradually weaned from the drug.
The growing frequency with which drug-dependent infants are appearing in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) means that there is plenty of data available about the short-term consequences of in-utero drug exposure. However, much less is known about what, if any, long-term effects may appear in people whose mothers abused prescription pain drugs during pregnancy.
New Study on Effects in Adulthood
Recently, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) of Florida launched a two-year study to investigate problems that may develop in adolescence or adulthood among people who were exposed to prescription painkillers before they were born. More specifically, the new study hopes to shed light on the foundational biology that could explain the development of various impulse control disorders that have been linked to NAS by previous research. These disorders include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia and addiction problems.
The Scripps researchers will use rodents to identify the specific areas of the brain that are structurally affected by prenatal drug exposure. Understanding the sections and subsections of the brain that are physically changed by NAS will help this team, as well as future researchers, understand why certain conditions are more likely to develop in people who underwent this exposure in utero.
Appropriate Place for Oxycodone Research
TSRI is one of the world leaders in biomedical research, and is also home to a renowned school of science and technology. The institute has campuses in La Jolla, Calif., and Jupiter, Fla. While both campuses boast top scientists and cutting-edge researchers, it seems appropriate that research into the long-term effects of in-utero exposure to painkillers is happening in Florida. Prescription painkiller abuse is a particularly large problem in Florida, even after years of concerted efforts to combat the crisis. During its heyday in the early 2000s, Florida doctors were prescribing 10 times as many prescription painkillers as the rest of the country combined, particularly oxycodone. Some pain clinics in the state were prescribing painkillers at such a tremendous rate that they came to be referred to as “pill mills.” Many experts described the problem as the largest and deadliest public safety threat in Florida.
Since 2010, the state has made inroads as officials and medical experts have attempted to crack down on this dangerous phenomenon. However, with such a lot of ground to make up, it is not surprising that Florida is still among the nation’s leaders when it comes to painkiller prescriptions and abuse of painkillers.
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