Monday, February 20, 2017

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is Affecting More Newborns

Newborn baby
Our country is facing a serious public health issue that only be described as an epidemic on an unprecedented scale. Opioid drug abuse is on the rise, and according to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 240 million prescriptions are written annually for substances that have an addictive, morphine-like effect such as OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan.

Opioid abuse was initially confined to the low-income residents of inner cities but has since expanded to include a more diverse population - people from many walks of life. And, unfortunately, it is now impacting a larger number of pregnant women.

According to a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) has quintupled in the past 12 years. NAS is a condition that describes a cluster of symptoms exhibited in newborns as a result of opiate exposure in the womb. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and in the most dangerous cases, infants with NAS can experience tremors, seizures and respiratory issues.

One of the article’s lead authors, Karen McQueen, RN, PhD of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada explains the rise of NAS in the context of the larger trend. “The increase in cases of the neonatal abstinence syndrome corresponds with the reported rise in opioid use during pregnancy, which is attributed to the more liberal use of prescribed opioids for pain control in pregnant women, illicit use of opioids such as oxycodone and heroin, and a dramatic increase in opioid-substitution programs for the treatment of opioid addiction.”

As part of their research findings, investigators recommend an emphasis on greater preventative measures targeting women of childbearing age. Specifically, the researchers recommend that clinicians place a greater emphasis on helping to educate women about the benefits and risks of using prescription painkillers during pregnancy.

In general, the authors of the study strongly recommend that clinicians take a more empathetic approach. “Creating a compassionate, safe environment for the mother is important, since many mothers feel stigmatized and guilty regarding substance use and the neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can lead to impaired communication with health care providers.”

While opioid abuse is spreading, we can turn the tide through substance abuse education, evidence-based therapies and holistic addiction treatment. And, as this research suggests, we can make substantial improvements by emphasizing more preventative measures to stop addiction – before it begins.

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