Inside The Long Health Battle For The Youngest Victims Of The Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis has claimed many young victims from high school students who develop a dependency after experimenting with painkillers, to children who feel withdrawal symptoms after opioids are prescribed for an injury or surgery, including dental procedures. Most young victims of the opioid crisis can work with parents and professionals to receive treatment and not let opioid dependence take them down a dangerous path. However, there are some victims of the opioid crisis that are too young to even speak. These are the babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). These infants have been consuming opioids since before they were born, due to a mother who suffers from opioid use disorder and takes opioids while pregnant. Opioids provide many complications for these young victims, so let’s take a closer look inside the long health battle for babies that have become victims of the opioid crisis before they’re even born.


How Opioid Use During Pregnancy Affects Babies

Recently, the CDC updated its database to include more information about how neonatal abstinence syndrome can affect newborns. Essentially, NAS manifests itself usually around 72 hours after the baby is delivered. NAS behaves like most other opioid withdrawal symptoms except that it affects babies who have become accustomed to opioids while in the womb.

The symptoms of NAS with opioids include trembling, excessive crying and irritability, sleep problems, vomiting, loose stool, yawning, trouble feeding, dehydration, and sweating.

Because NAS can show up in a baby after a mother has left the hospital it is important to be honest with your doctor about opioid use and have a plan in place to take care of your baby should these symptoms arise.


Treatment Continues To Evolve For These Babies

While more research needs to be done to fully explore the long-term effects that taking opioids during pregnancy can have on the babies that are exposed to them, there are effective treatments in place for babies suffering from NAS.

Once NAS has been identified, these infants are usually taken to the newborn intensive care unit where they are given medications that adult opioid users are prescribed for treatment, but in much smaller doses. Medications administered follow typical medication-assisted treatment protocols for people who are dependent on opioids. Babies suffering from NAS are given increasingly small doses of methadone, buprenorphine, or morphine to wean their system off opioids. These babies are also monitored and given IV fluids to prevent dehydration, as well as a high-calorie formula to help nourish their bodies. Many babies born with NAS are underweight, so this nourishment is vital.


Suboxone Can Help During Pregnancy

If you are taking opioids during pregnancy and are worried about your baby having long-term health problems due to NAS, it is important to consult your doctor about using medication-assisted treatment to help end your opioid dependence. Suboxone uses buprenorphine, a weaker opioid, combined with naloxone to help the body overcome opioid dependency. Since suboxone is still an opioid, there is a risk of a baby developing NAS if it is taken during pregnancy. However, a 2010 John Hopkins study found that using buprenorphine as opposed to a full-strength opioid like methadone resulted in less intensive treatment for babies with NAS, as well as shorter stays in the hospital. The bottom line is that no situation is ideal, but it is better to develop a plan to use medication to help stop opioid use during pregnancy, as opposed to just continuing use and giving birth to a baby that will have to spend the first month or more of their life in the NICU.


If you are pregnant, or simply looking to heal from opioids to start a healthy and happy family, Fritz Clinic of Alabama is the place to go. Fritz uses Suboxone, as well as opioid counseling to make sure you have the best possible treatment. For over 35 years Fritz Clinic of Alabama has been helping families heal from opioids. Call or contact Fritz Clinic to make your first appointment today.