Would you believe that the fastest growing group of drug addicts are newborn babies? Experts say that a record number of babies are being born with a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. That means their mother took powerful prescription drugs while pregnant, like oxycontin, so the babies are born addicted, and have to go through an extreme and dangerous withdrawal process, just like detoxing adult addicts. And that boosts their risk of suffering everything from potentially deadly respiratory complications, to seizures.
And because the epidemic is so new, there’s no protocol to treat NAS babies. So hospitals are scrambling to create treatment plans. For example, babies with NAS are often easily agitated, cry non-stop, and are extremely sensitive to sound and light. So, a lot of hospitals are creating special NAS-only wings, where rooms are quieter, and darker, and it’s a much more soothing environment.
Also, hospitals used to detox drug addicted babies by giving them methadone, which is a common treatment for adult addicts. But doctors found that methadone was too powerful for a baby’s fragile and developing body.
So now hospitals give NAS newborns small doses of morphine every day, gradually decreasing the amount until the babies are completely weaned off and can be drug-free. And experts say that since swapping out morphine for methadone, the average hospital stay for those babies has decreased by several days. But they’re still staying in the hospital an average of 24 days.