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Doctors See Surge in Number of Prescription Drug-Addicted Babies

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I’ve written several blogs in the past few weeks on the growing concern over prescription painkiller addiction. More Americans than ever are addicted to drugs like OxyContin or Vicodin–the number has tripled in the past decade alone. Unfortunately, medical officials have discovered a group of unsuspecting victims of prescription painkiller addiction, by no fault of their own.

The number of babies born to mothers with prescription painkiller addictions is also on the rise. National statistics on the number of babies who go through painkiller withdrawal after birth are not available, and only those states with the worst problems have started to collect information. However, from the little data already collected, the number of babies addicted to prescription painkiller by proxy has doubled or even tripled in the past decade. Withdrawal symptoms include twitching, crying, and vomiting. Addicted babies also have trouble eating and breathing on their own and have been known to rub their faces so frantically with their hands that they’ve caused their skin to bleed.

In response to the problem, the American Academy of Pediatrics held a meeting this year to develop new guidelines for dealing with drug-addicted babies. Those guidelines are expected to be published next year. Doctors hope to intervene early to get drug-addicted pregnant mothers the help they need before their babies are born. Unfortunately, some mothers may hide their addictions from their physician for fear of losing their baby to social workers after birth. Furthermore, a pregnant woman cannot go cold turkey from prescription painkillers because if she has withdrawal symptoms, the baby will too, resulting in seizures in the womb and possible miscarriage. Some hospitals in states where the problem is particulary problematic have developed rehabilitation programs for pregnant women, such as the Mercy Hospital Recovery Center in Portland, Maine. Doctors are hopeful that the new guidelines will help other hospitals and doctors to address the problem before it’s too late.