Increase in US babies born with drug withdrawal

A new study from data gathered between 2000 and 2009 has found that the number of babies born in the USA with drug withdrawal due to maternal opiate use has increased significantly.

Drug abuse

by Louise-Anne Geddes, Mindful Mum, 1st May 2012

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) examined the prevalence of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is a postnatal drug withdrawal syndrome primarily caused by maternal opiate use.  The research used data gathered in nine years to examine the links between NAS and maternal opiate use, and the health expenditure associated with this.  Symptoms of NAS include: increased irritability, hypertonia, tremors, feeding intolerance, emesis, watery stools, seizures, and respiratory distress.

Research findings

The study found that the number of babies born with signs of ‘opiate drug withdrawal’ has almost tripled in the USA.  Their data indicated that more than 13,000 U.S. infants were affected in 2009, the researchers estimated.  In 2009, newborns with NAS were more likely than all other hospital births to have low, have respiratory complications, and be covered by Medicaid. Mean hospital charges for discharges with NAS increased from $39,400 in 2000 to $53,400 in 2009 (By 2009, 77.6% of charges for NAS were attributed to state Medicaid programs.  A recent national study also indicated levels of ‘illicit drug use’ of 16.2% among pregnant teens and 7.4% among pregnant women aged 18 to 25 years.


The researchers concluded that ‘Between 2000 and 2009, a substantial increase in the incidence of NAS and maternal opiate use in the United States was observed, as well as hospital charges related to NAS.  Newborns with NAS experience longer, often medically complex and costly initial hospitalizations. The increasing incidence of NAS and its related health care expenditures call for increased public health measures to reduce antenatal exposure to opiates across the United States. In addition, further innovation and standardization of treatment of NAS may mitigate NAS symptoms and reduce hospital LOS. States are poised to seek innovative solutions to decreasing the burden of NAS, because the majority of hospital expenditures for this condition are shouldered by state Medicaid programs’.

Source:  The Journal of the American Medical Association, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Associated Health Care Expenditures, 30th April 2012

Photography: Official US Navy Photography @Flickr 

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