CDC: Babies Born Dependent On Opioids More Than Tripled In 15 Years

By John Lavitt 08/17/16

A new CDC study found that the number of babies born dependent on drugs increased by 300% between 1999 and 2013. 

CDC: Babies Born Dependent On Opioids More Than Tripled In 15 Years

In a frightening statistic that unearths the innocent cost of the opioid epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the number of drug-addicted babies has more than tripled in the past 15 years. Born craving opioids and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, these innocent children face a myriad of difficult physical and mental challenges. In its most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC revealed that neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) catapulted to 6 per 1,000 hospital births in 2013. This is a staggering increase from the 1.5 per 1,000 that was recorded in 1999. 

The data comes from an examination of publicly available data from 28 states where such information about opioid addiction was archived. What is even more horrifying, however, is that the CDC believes the hospital data greatly underestimates the prevalence of the problem. Given the medical profession’s low opinion of addicts and a refusal of parents with substance use disorder to admit the problem, the issue is sometimes ignored.

The CDC’s findings reflect the results of smaller studies that have raised red flags in the face of the huge increases in babies born with NAS. The CDC believes state governments need to play a central role in addressing the problem since they delegate funds passed down from the federal government for substance use disorder treatment and recovery. Medicaid programs administered by various states actually covered 80% of the incredible $1.5 billion in costs for the treatment of drug-addicted babies at U.S. hospitals in 2012 alone. Imagine if a percentage of these funds went to helping the mothers before their children were born addicted.

Given the threat to innocent newborns, the CDC emphasized the need for funding a public health initiative to help pregnant women battling addiction. Beyond raising awareness and educational efforts, there needs to be proactive attempts to provide these women with the help they need. A perfect example of such efforts is the Perinatal Recovery Effort through Maternal Intervention & Education (Project P.R.E.M.I.E.) in Santa Maria, California, which was recently highlighted by The Fix. Beyond providing expectant women, regardless of financial status, with a sober living environment that has around-the-clock staffing, the transitional center also offers substance abuse programs, nutrition and health support, and parenting classes.

The CDC researchers clearly stated: “Prevention efforts, such as promotion of effective use of prescription drug monitoring programs, are needed to reduce inappropriate prescribing and dispensing of opioids. Clinicians should follow recommended guidelines on appropriate prescribing of opioid medications and provide screening and treatment for opioid use disorder among pregnant and nonpregnant women of reproductive age.”

Despite these recommendations, given the success of Project P.R.E.M.I.E. in Santa Maria, more needs to be done. After all, despite the belief that prevention and physician monitoring will help, the beginning and end of the problem lies with the expectant mothers. If they are unable to access the recovery and treatment services needed to stay abstinent from opioids during pregnancy, the flood of babies dependent on opioids will continue to be born. 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.