Painkiller addiction becoming more common in infants, study shows
Painkiller addiction is becoming more and more common in infants, according to a recently released study that shows that the number of US babies born with opiate drug withdrawal has tripled in the past decade.
(Page 2 of 2)
Dr. Stephen Patrick, the lead author of the study and a newborn specialist at the University of Michigan health system in Ann Arbor, called the problem a "public health epidemic" that demands attention from policymakers, as well as from researchers to clarify what long-term problems these infants may face.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
University of Maine scientist Marie Hayes said her research suggests some affected infants suffer developmental delays in early childhood, but whether those problems persist is uncertain.
It's the 21st century version of what was known as the "crack baby" epidemic of the 1980s. Some experts say that epidemic was overblown and that infants born to mothers using crack cocaine face no serious long-term health problems.
Some think the current problem is being overblown, too.
Carl Hart, an assistant psychiatry professor at Columbia University and a substance abuse researcher at the New York Psychiatric Institute, noted that only a tiny portion of the estimated 4 million U.S. infants born each year are affected.
Hart also said the study probably includes women who weren't abusing drugs during pregnancy, but were taking prescribed painkillers for legitimate reasons. He said he worries that the study will unfairly stigmatize pregnant women who are "doing the right thing" by taking methadone to fight their addiction.
Doctors pushing powerful painkillers "like candy" contribute to the problem, said Arturo Valdez, who runs the Chicago substance abuse program that Aileen Dannelley attends. Patients at his West Side clinic include men and women who are prescribed opiate painkillers for legitimate reasons, such as car accident injuries, and find themselves addicted when the prescriptions runs out. Some turn to street drugs, which can be cheaper and easier to obtain, Valdez said.
In some states, mothers of newborns with drug withdrawal are arrested and jailed, but Valdez said addiction is a brain disease that should be treated like other illnesses, not stigmatized.
Aileen Dannelley said she started abusing drugs after an adult neighbor introduced her to crack when she was 14. She said she would "never have touched it" if she had known how addictive drugs can be.
She said she has abused Vicodin, which a doctor gave her to treat back pain from sitting all day at an office job, as well as other prescription painkillers and heroin.
Dannelley was still abusing drugs early in her pregnancy but decided in December to quit, vowing: "I'm not going to go back to that lifestyle. There's a baby inside me."
Now she is trying to get her life back on track. Estranged from her husband, she is living with her parents and just signed up for nursing classes at a local junior college. She visits Savannah every day. The baby has been in the hospital since she was born in early April, and her mother hopes to take her home soon.
"I am doing so good for the first time in my life," Dannelley said.