How Does Drug Use Impact Pregnancy?

Addiction already carries the risk of extreme life consequences, but when a person is both pregnant and addicted to drugs and alcohol, the potential risks increase dramatically. Pregnant women require treatment that addresses their specific needs if they are to be successful in overcoming addiction. Without treatment, the consequences of drug addiction and alcoholism will not only affect the mother, but may create dangerous side effects in the developing infant.
An expecting mother’s addiction can cause an infant to be born with a painful physical dependence to substances. When a baby is exposed to drugs in the womb, it may experience severe withdrawal symptoms upon birth, known medically as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). NAS does not only occur when a pregnant woman uses illicit drugs, but can also arise from the use of prescription drugs, including prescription opioids.
The rates of American children born with NAS has quadrupled in the past 15 years. Hannah Rappleye, in a 2017 NBC News article entitled Born Addicted: The Number of Opioid-Addicted Babies is Soaring, explains that some counties in East Tennessee report rates of infants for with NAS at eight times the national average. Dr. Shawn Hollinger, a neonatal at Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, explained to NBC that the numbers of children with NAS who need intensive treatment has been so overwhelming that to hospital has had to open an entirely new wing dedicated to caring for the infants. According to Rappleye, “Since 2009, hospital staff have treated over 1,800 babies with NAS. In the past 12 months, Hollinger has seen 351 infants with NAS come through the NICU.”
NAS can be caused by illicit drugs like heroin, prescription opioids such as codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, and tramadol, and other prescriptions drugs like antidepressants and benzodiazepines. According to March of Dimes, symptoms may different for every baby, but “most happen within 3 days (72 hours) of birth, but some may happen right after birth or not until a few weeks after birth. They can last from 1 week to 6 months after birth. Symptoms can include: tremors, convulsions, twitching, excessive and high-pitched crying, poor feeding, slow weight gain, breathing problems, fever, sweating, blotchy skin, trouble sleeping, diarrhea, vomiting, stuffy nose, and sneezing. It is important for both the mother and the infant to immediately seek treatment to reduce any potentially dangerous complications.

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