Drugs and Pregnancy

  • Prescription drug addiction among pregnant women becoming a 'Monstrous Tidal Wave.'
    They are the youngest victims of the prescription drug epidemic, tiny babies born already addicted to the drugs their mothers were taking when they were pregnant.  More than 13,000 babies a year are born in America addicted to prescription painkillers like OxyContin, hydrocodone and other narcotic drugs, according to a recent study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    These babies may seem normal at birth, but they suffer tremendously.  Within days they start having symptoms like severe shaking, tremors and more.  They vomit and have diarrhea, fever, sweating and extreme irritability.  The newborns also have trouble sleeping, feeding and they often shriek in pain, their bodies craving the medication they are addicted to.

    The only way the nurses can treat symptoms is to give the infants morphine, a narcotic similar to the drug taken by the mother, to keep the baby from developing seizures and dying.  Death can result from violent seizures that cause the baby to stop breathing, cutting off oxygen to the baby’s heart and other vital organs.

    Many women become addicted to painkillers after they’ve been prescribed them by their doctors.  There are no easy answers for pregnant addicts.  Even if they want to get off the drugs quickly, doctors advise them not to.  Going cold turkey could cause them to miscarry.  Instead, the women are switched from the painkillers they are on to methadone or buprenorphine, drugs that keep them stable and help curb their cravings. Unfortunately, these drugs can also cause severe withdrawal symptoms in newborns.

    “You’re told either you can take the methadone and your child could be born addicted, or you detox, stop taking everything and your baby could die,” one pregnant addict told us.  Either way, “I’m deathly scared.”

    The sheer volume of babies born addicted is putting a strain on the healthcare system. Healthy newborns typically stay in the hospital for a few days, but these babies stay weeks and sometimes months, at an average cost of more than $50,000 per child, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Doctors at the Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia told us that sometimes the neonatal unit is so full of babies going through withdrawal that newborns with other problems like prematurity have to be turned away due to lack of space.

    Dr. David Chaffin, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Marshall University Medical Center participated in a multi-hospital study that had a stunning result:  At least 10 percent of all babies in West Virginia are born with prescription narcotics in their systems.  He calls painkiller addiction among pregnant women “a monstrous tidal wave” with no end in sight.

    Until large scale, long-term studies of these kids have been completed, no one really knows if they’ll have problems later in life.  All that the doctors can say for sure is that as long as women keep abusing prescription pain pills and doctors keep over prescribing them, expect to see more and more babies suffer the consequences.  By Catherine Olian, NBC’s Rock Center, July 5, 2012 

  • The number of U.S. babies born with signs of opiate drug withdrawal has tripled between 2000 and 2009, becoming a "public health epidemic," because of a surge in pregnant women's use of legal and illegal narcotics, including Vicodin, OxyContin and heroin.  (Dr. Stephen Patrick, lead author of the study and a newborn specialist at the University of Michigan health system in Ann Arbor, Eastern Main Medical Center, and the Journal of the American Medical Association study, May 2012)