A new study shows that women who take opioid drugs have an increased risk of giving birth to babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is usually associated with illicit use of drugs during pregnancy. Moreover babies are exposed to other complications such as preterm birth, complicated deliveries, low birth weight and respiratory complications such as respiratory distress and meconium aspiration syndrome.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome involves withdrawal symptoms mainly. Babies suffering from withdrawal symptoms experience high-pitched crying, breathing problems, diarrhea, vomiting, convulsions, sweating, fever, excessive sucking or rooting, mottled skin, jitteriness, poor appetite and tremors.
The study was conducted by researchers from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and published in the journal Pediatrics. In the research investigators used data from the medical records of babies and mothers who took part in the Tennessee Medicaid program from 2009 to 2011. Afterwards the researchers examined a random sample of records of babies who suffered from neonatal abstinence syndrome and validated the diagnoses. Lastly, the cases of children born with withdrawal symptoms were compared to the opioid prescription records.
112,029 pregnant women were involved in the study. 28% of them had received at least one opioid pain reliever prescription. 65% of the babies diagnosed with NAS had mothers who had been legally prescribed opioid pain relievers. Moreover, babies who suffered from NAS were more likely to have a low weight at birth in comparison with babies who were never exposed to opioids. Just 9.9 % of the unexposed infants were underweight, whereas the percentage of underweight infants suffering withdrawal was 21.2%.
Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy, department of neonatology, explained that not all the infants exposed to opioids suffer from drug withdrawal when born. But the reasons are not yet known. However the study has identified a series of factors which can increase the risk of suffering from withdrawal. Such factors include the type of drug prescribed, how long opioids were used, if the mothers used antidepressant medicine and the number of cigarettes they smoked.
The investigators said it is important to evaluate the effect which new state policies have on reducing opioid drugs use during pregnancy. In addition, new strategies of developing the monitoring database of drug prescription should be evaluated and provided with risk predictions of adverse effects such as neonatal abstinence syndrome and overdose deaths.
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