A new study at the University of Michigan shows a sharp increase in babies born addicted to opiates. Researchers think that corresponds to the increased use of pain medications such as OxyContin.
The research found a three-fold increase in babies born withdrawing from opiates nationwide over the last decade. They can’t tell exactly which drugs were being used. Opiates could include heroin or methadone. But over the same time, the overall use of pain relievers such as Vicodin and OxyContin shot up five times.
Stephen Patrick, the study’s lead researcher, says it stands to reason some of the increase in the number of addicted babies is due to abuse of pain medication. He says babies undergoing withdrawal are different from other newborns.
“They’re typically inconsolable,” he says. “They are irritable. They have difficulty feeding often. Sometimes they have breathing problems.”
Patrick says opiate use is becoming an epidemic that merits public health intervention. Some states, such as Michigan, have created a registry to track who’s using these drugs and how much.
“Physicians can look up if someone has been prescribed multiple opiates from multiple different doctors. This way you can sort of identify folks who might be abusing opiates,” he says.
The study looked at hospital billing data. The costs to treat these babies went up by a third and three-quarters of the charges were paid by Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor.