The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing issues facing this country today and, unfortunately, it even impacts newborn babies. According to a recent study that was published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine earlier in 2019, babies who have been exposed to opioids suffer more pain than those who do not. Even though opioid medications are effective at treating pain, they do have a number of different side effects and their use must be cautioned during pregnancy. If a pregnant mother takes opioids, she could be exposing her unborn child to the medication as well. While protocols do exist for treating symptoms of pain in opioid-addicted infants, these babies might actually need more attention than was previously thought. The results of this study could signal that a paradigm shift is needed in the way that opioid use during pregnancy is handled.
The Methods of the Study: Opioid-Addicted Infants
The study was performed at Penn State University before being published by the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine. In the research study, more than three dozen babies were included. About two-thirds of these babies were exposed to opioids while in the womb. The last third was not exposed to this class of drug. All of the babies underwent routine blood testing to ensure that they had been properly categorized.
The newborn babies were closely monitored for signs of pain via a video camera. Nurses and doctors have a scoring system for newborn pain that has been in use for years. The higher the score, the more pain the baby is experiencing.
In addition, the babies also had their electrical conductance measured using a probe on the foot. One of the most common reactions to pain is sweating. When people sweat, their conductance increases because of the increased liquid and salt on the surface of the skin. If the conductance of the baby increases, this means that they are sweating more and feeling pain.
Symptoms of Withdrawal: Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
When babies are born addicted to opioids, they are at risk of developing something called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). This is a withdrawal syndrome that is similar to other withdrawal symptoms seen in adults. When someone is addicted to something and that substance is suddenly stopped cold turkey, signs of withdrawal could manifest. Some of the symptoms of NAS include:
- Irritability and inconsolability, marked by constant crying
- Poor feeding, trouble latching, and poor weight gain
The treatment of NAS is dependent on the source of the withdrawal symptoms. In this case, the babies are suffering withdrawal from opioids. One of the treatment options for opioid withdrawal-related NAS is methadone. Gradually, the methadone is tapered off over a period of time. This prevents an abrupt cessation of opioids and will ease the symptoms of NAS.
The Results of the Study: Predicting Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
The goal of the researchers was to try and predict which babies were at risk of developing NAS. The researchers tracked the babies closely and monitored their pain both using the video camera and through the conductance test. The researchers found that, based on these pain-scoring systems, they could predict which babies were at risk of developing NAS.
Predicting which babies are at risk of developing NAS is important. If a baby with NAS has to undergo a painful procedure, such as a blood draw or an IV placement, they are going to react more strongly to that pain. Babies with NAS often continue to be stressed even long after the procedure is over. Therefore, these babies need extra comforting measures to help them both during and after the procedure. This could mean extra swaddling, a special pacifier, or even pain medication.
Opioid-Addicted Infants are a Pressing Issue
Unfortunately, as the opioid epidemic gets worse, the number of opioid-addicted infants may continue to rise. The researchers at Penn State also noted that, according to the Pennsylvania State Health Department, more than 2,600 babies were diagnosed with NAS in the year 2018 alone. Babies who suffer from NAS are also at risk of developing long-term complications. Some of these include:
This means that more has to be done to address opioid use during pregnancy and NAS itself. It is imperative that anyone who is pregnant carefully monitor their use of opioids with the help of a medical professional to try and prevent NAS. Furthermore, anyone with questions or concerns about the health of their baby should seek the help of a trained professional.
Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyers
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer. Opioid-addicted infants are at risk of developing Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Should your baby suffer from opioid addiction shortly after birth, please reach out to me at (800) 404-5400 or (916) 921-6400 to receive free, friendly legal guidance and advice.
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