Number of babies born addicted to prescription drugs rises

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: May 26th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In the 1980s, the number of newborns addicted to crack skyrocketed. Reacting to the startling photos of tiny, underweight babies, health officials and legislators got involved and the number eventually dropped. But the problem of drug-addicted babies didn’t go away. It only changed form.

Today, with the growing rate of prescription drug abuse, doctors are reporting an increase in the number of babies addicted to pills. In fact, the number of babies diagnosed with fetal withdrawal syndrome more than doubled between 2003 and 2008, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

When a woman is pregnant, nearly everything she consumes is passed along to her baby through the bloodstream. That’s why pregnant women are told to avoid substances such as nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. If an expectant mother is using narcotics, the impact is much stronger and can result in the baby being born with fetal withdrawal syndrome.

A baby with this condition will typically be born underweight. The infant will also be very irritable, have difficulty sleeping through the night and be prone to tremors, stiff limbs, vomiting and severe diarrhea. Long-term effects, such as behavioral problems, are also common.

The number of people abusing prescription medication continues to climb. In fact, prescriptions are now the biggest cause of fatal overdoses in the United States, more than tripling between 1996 and 2006.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the best way to combat this problem is through better training. For physicians, that means spotting addicts and treating them before the problem gets worse. Pharmacists need training on how to give patients clear directions and warnings about the dangers of addiction. These steps could help adults and babies alike.