See how pregnant women put their unborn babies at risk of drug addiction- Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).
“An estimated 11 million people are dependent on heroin or other opioid drugs, a condition associated with a high morbidity and 15-fold mortality from causes including overdose and infections”. (WHO)
“In 2012, an infant addicted to drugs was being born every 30 minutes in the U.S, costing $1.5 billion annually in health care treatments”.
“The epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States has spilled over to affect newborn babies, with the number of infants born suffering from opioid withdrawal tripling in a decade, the director of the government’s institute for drug abuse said this week”. (News from Aljazeera)
Pregnant women who misuse Opioid medications put their unborn babies at risk of drug addiction
What are Opioid drugs?
“Opioids are medications that relieve pain. They reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus.
Examples are hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine, and related drugs. Hydrocodone products are the most commonly prescribed for a variety of painful conditions, including dental and injury-related pain”. (NIH: National institute on Drug Abuse)
Because of the increase in the use of opioid prescriptions by pregnant women, there has been a steep increase in the number of babies born addicted to the drugs, a condition referred to as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
What is NAS?
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) refers to cases in which newborns experience drug withdrawal shortly after birth due to drug exposure in utero.
NAS is a devastating condition, and it is on the rise in the US. In Nigeria, there are no official reports on usage, which may be due to lack of data. However, information gathered from some pharmacists in Nigeria suggests that Nigerians may also be involved in the misuse of painkillers.“ In some U.S, states there are as many as 96 to 143 prescriptions for opioids per 100 adults per year”,(CDC).
Symptoms of NAS
NAS is characterized by irritability, seizures, shaking, difficulty in eating and sleeping.
Effect: Opioids and Brain Damage
The research team said that scientists do not know the long-term effects of opioid abuse on fetal brain development yet, some mothers have reported cognitive impairments in their children.
Considering that opioid overdose is linked to slowed breathing (depressed respiration) which can affect the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Psychological and Neurological effects caused by hypoxia may be short or long term effects, such as coma and permanent brain damage.
Research on the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain have shown some deterioration of the brain’s white matter due to heroin use, which may affect the ability to regulate behavior, responses to stressful situations and even decision-making abilities,.
Taken as prescribed, opioids can be used to manage pain safely and effectively.
Abuse of a single large dose can cause severe respiratory depression and death.
When abused or used several times daily and for several weeks or longer, opioids can lead to physical dependence and, in some cases, addiction. In either case, withdrawal symptoms may occur if drug use is suddenly reduced or stopped..
Restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), and involuntary leg movements are possible symptoms
What to do
Preventing inappropriate opioid use among pregnant women and women of childbearing age is important to protect the health of both mother and infant.
- See your physician before using Opioids
- Pregnant women should avoid opioids unless it is necessary.
- “Opioids should be reserved for pregnant women with severe pain that cannot be controlled through more benign means, and ideally limited to a short-term use,”
Report by Aljazeera, Research studies on neonatal abstinence syndrome, team member: Dr. Stephen Patrick, a neonatologist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
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