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Battling The Opioid Crisis: Born Addicted

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome occurs when a newborn infant experiences withdrawal symptoms from an opioid addiction formed in utero.

Symptoms of NAS include but are not limited to high-pitched crying, irritability, diarrhea and vomiting.

“At delivery, babies are usually not actively withdrawing because the maternal drugs that they’ve been using are still in their system,” said Dr. Naomi Lauriello, a neonatal doctor at the University of Missouri hospital. “So, usually within a day or two, we observe them and when they hit a certain level of symptoms.”

Lauriello said infants with NAS receive withdrawal treatment for the first weeks of their life without which they would risk seizures and death.

“It takes a while depending on what medications the mom is on, it can take a while for that to completely go away,” said Lauriello. “Sometimes, if they’re on mixed drugs, they’ll start withdrawing from one drug and then continue to have increased symptoms from withdrawing from a second drug.”

Occurrences of the disease have increased in the state of Missouri 538 percent since 2006, according to a report by the Missouri Hospital Association.

Nationwide, the frequency of the disease has increased by about 300 percent since 1999.

The MHA report breaks down the frequency of the syndrome by county, listing the number of newborns who have it, per 1,000 born.

The most recent county numbers show the following:

Boone – 4.04 Cole – 5.2 Callaway – 3.66 Cooper – 6.92 Howard – 0 Randolph – 5.03 Moniteau – 1.14 Miller – 7.9 Osage – 2.84 Camden 8.72

A full data map of Missouri counties can be seen in the MHA report.

The higher frequency of NAS is also causing an influx of foster care cases as many of the families involved are deemed unfit to care for the newborns.

Julia Adami coordinates home and community-based services for Great Circle, a social services organization that contracts with the state to manage counseling services, child abuse prevention and autism programs as well as foster care and adoption cases.

“Now, heroin and prescription opioid pills that parents are taking who receive no prenatal care, is more and more common,” said Adami. “We handle far more cases than we used to. We hardly ever used to see that.”

Missouri has a number of resource centers for drug rehabilitation, a list of which can be found at this link.

More information about Great Circle can be found at the organization’s website.

The full report by the Missouri Hospital Association can be found here.

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