The Herald Bulletin

November 23, 2013

Editorial: State must tackle growing neonatal drug problem

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Drug addiction is horrible. Users lose their minds, their bodies, their possessions. But the tale of addiction is even more heartrending when the addict is an innocent who never made a decision to try drugs in the first place.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) occurs when a pregnant mother consumes drugs and her baby develops a dependency while still in the womb. When the baby is born, NAS can be manifest, depending on the drugs ingested by the mother, in a host of health problems, including birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth, small head circumference and sudden infant death syndrome.

According to a study by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, from 2000 to 2009 cases of NAS among newborns in the United States increased almost threefold, from 1.2 to 3.4 per 1,000 hospital births.

The New England Journal of Medicine had this response to the NAS statistics: "These results are depressing. ... The increase in opiate use is not limited to illicit drugs but is contributed to by legal and illegal use of prescription medications. ... Sales and deaths associated with prescription opiates increased fourfold. ... The authors ... note the lack of progress we've made in managing opiate use in pregnant women."

Across Indiana and in Madison County, health care officials have taken notice of the NAS increase. Natalie Robinson, coordinator of the Attorney General's Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, says NAS is an epidemic.

"Even more startling than the higher risks, is the pain and suffering that a newborn with NAS endures after birth," Robinson said in an article published Tuesday in The Herald Bulletin.

A task force of Hoosier medical and legal authorities prescribes legislation that would bring closer monitoring of mothers who might use opiates and other drugs that can cause NAS. The proposed legislation would also provide help for expectant mothers with drug dependency, while requiring that health-care providers report NAS cases to the state department of health, more regulation of pain killers and stiffer penalties for prescription drug abuse.

Several other states, including nearby Michigan, have taken the lead in stricter regulation of prescription drugs and establishment of laws that deal specifically with drug abuse among pregnant women.

It's time that Indiana does likewise to prevent the tragedy of children being born with drug dependency and potentially suffering lifelong effects.

In summary Cases of infants born with drug addictions in the United States increased almost three-fold from 2000 to 2009.