Painkiller addiction in newborns is a much more serious problem than previously thought with one baby born addicted to such drugs every hour, according to a new study released Tuesday.
The Journal of the American Medical Association released the first-ever national study on babies born with addiction to drugs that includes prescription painkillers. The study's findings was shocking, including that drug-addiction in newborn has nearly tripled over the past ten years.
"We were surprised by it. That's a startling increase," remarked Dr. Stephen Patrick, lead author of the study, to CNN.
Patrick, a fellow at the University of Michigan's Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, noted that there has been an "incredible" increase in the number of prescriptions for pain relievers in the U.S.
"We think that might be part of the increase we are seeing," he said.
In 2009, about every 3.4 babies out of 1,000 born in a hospital was reported to experience a kind of drug withdrawal linked to narcotic pain medications. Add that number up, and that is about 13,500 drug-addicted babies born a year.
Some of the more popular prescription painkillers today include Oxycontin and Vicodin. The technical name for the illness suffered by newborns addicted to such drugs is called neonatal abstinence syndrome.
"The prevalence of drug uses among pregnant women hasn't changed since the early 2000s, but the types of drugs that women are using" has changed, explained Andreea Creanga, researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to USA Today.
Babies born addicted to painkillers are usually smaller in size and have higher risks of death than normal babies. They have a distinct cry, more shrill, and are harder to soothe. They also sometimes have seizures and breathing problems.
"It's like a colicky baby times 10," Patrick explained.
It takes a little over two weeks on average for a newborn to withdraw from painkillers. Patrick highlighted that during the decade examined for the study, the total U.S. hospital bill quadrupled. He said the high medical cost should spur state governments to help find solutions to prevent drug addictions in babies.