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Hospitals Urged to Screen Babies for Drug Addiction

Medical professionals should keep their eyes peeled for signs of infant drug dependency, say pediatric doctors.

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Withdrawal symptoms may take days
to appear after birth. Photo via

By Valerie Tejeda

01/31/12

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The growing problem of prescription-painkiller addiction has caused an alarming increase in babies born hooked to opioids and benzodiazepines. The American Academy of Pediatrics has published a report calling on health professionals to increase their efforts to identify and treat addicted newborns. The report, appearing in February's Pediatrics journal, also lists substances that have an adverse affect on babies in utero. It notes that it may take days for withdrawal symptoms to appear in drug-addicted newborns. In contrast, alcohol-addicted babies may begin to experience withdrawal within 12 hours of birth. Medical professionals can assess the possibility of drug dependency in babies by evaluating criteria including birth weight, type of cry, tremors and sleep patterns. Some newborns may need to receive medication to ease withdrawal symptoms. The report argues that a plan to screen for drug- and alcohol-addicted infants should be instituted at every hospital nursery—and that with the growing number of babies affected, more research is needed to determine how best to wean newborns off their mothers' drugs.

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