More Pregnant Mothers May Be Abusing Prescription Drugs

More Pregnant Mothers May Be Abusing Prescription Drugs

A new and tragic twist to the problem of prescription drug abuse is affecting the lives and health of what could be considered the youngest victims – babies who are born already addicted to opiate drugs, or prescription pain killers. According to recent research, the level of newborn babies born with prescription drug abuse addiction problems is 40 times greater than the 1980’s level. Experts believe babies born with prescription drug addictions will not only battle withdrawal, but may be more likely to also face abuse or neglect.Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study, conducted by Australian researchers, looked at data from more than 637,000 births during a 25-year span ending in 2005. More than 900 newborns received the diagnosis of neonatal withdrawal syndrome, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, and each year the rate grew by more than 16 percent. Hospitals have also reported more newborns entering the world already showing signs of opiate addiction and then withdrawal, especially prescription pain medications including Oxycontin or Percocet.

Fiona Stanley, one of the Australian study’s authors, Perth’s Telethon Institute for Child Health and Research, is encouraging more education collaboratively among social service workers, rehabilitation staff and medical staff about ways to intervene if prescription drug abuse is suspected in a pregnant mother, prior to the baby’s birth.

Symptoms for babies born addicted to drugs include shaking or tremors, crying for longer than normal periods, and muscles that are difficult to move or stiff. Babies born addicted to prescription drugs may also vomit, have diarrhea or have abnormal reflexive responses.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the problem of prescription drug abuse by pregnant mothers is increasing. The Institute proposes that physicians be better trained to identify addictions in their patients and that pharmacists gain specialized knowledge on how to explain the dangers, risks and proper usage of the medications.

It can take a month or two to completely end the withdrawal symptoms for newborn babies, who stop receiving the addictive substance immediately after birth. During this early phase of life, bonding occurs with the parents or caregivers, and the consequences of abnormal crying or other physical problems linked to drug withdrawal can prevent proper bonding from occurring – and even set the stage for infant abuse.

Other risks associated with pregnant mothers abusing prescription pain medications include low birth weight or developmental delays, as well as a higher risk for premature delivery. The baby may also need assistance breathing.

Long term effects may also include delays in normal learning development, such as crawling and walking. Later effects can manifest with school delays. The more addicted the mother and the higher her rate of drug abuse, the higher the level of potential learning delays for the baby.

Because the short and long term effects of mothers abusing prescription drugs during pregnancy can be severe and life-threatening to babies, a quick response is critical – prompting the need for a more cross-disciplinary approach, say experts, toward identifying and treating mothers early on if they show signs of prescription drug abuse.

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