Among the many issues regarding the rising drug abuse problems in the US, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) has been one that has been making headlines today. As described by medical experts, NAS is a cluster of symptoms a newly born baby shows from withdrawing from drugs the mother used during pregnancy. In Tennessee, there seems to be an epidemic of this condition, as a substantial number of newborns have become tangled in the complex web of opioid addiction. According to recent official data, already 485 newborns in the state have been diagnosed with NAS this year.
Neonatal specialist at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, Dr. Des Bharti, said that infants who are born with NAS could also be addicted to certain drugs, ranging from anti-depressants to narcotics, and the condition is sometimes difficult to treat after birth. These babies are then admitted to a hospital and would typically stay there for as long as 3 weeks, where treatment can cost more than $45,000 per child.
Commenting on this, Bharti said, “Our basic idea of admitting them to the hospital here is to treat them with the medication or without medication and make sure they are comfortable and stable at the time of discharge. When we do treat them with drugs, our idea is to bring them to a state where they can be managed at home.” However, it is important to note that some cases are more difficult to treat than others.
The number of infants born with NAS in Tennessee has increased eleven folds since 1999, according to reports, ranking the state as having the highest percentage of NAS births in the country. Now, efforts have been made to address the issue, with medical professionals, like the Sullivan County Health Department health nurse Joy McLain, stating that the task is not easy.
As you can see, Sullivan County is one of the most heavily affected areas in the state. McLain stated that the medical community has been doing their best to fight the growing epidemic in the area over the last 2 years, with the health department helping the community through schools, churches, anti-drug coalition programs and methadone clinics to educate women about pregnancy and NAS. Now, such efforts seemed to have paid up, with recent data showing the epidemic growth rate to be slowing down from last year.
McLain added that a big contributor to the epidemic is the culture and belief that “everything can be fixed with a pill”. While changing culture is no easy feat, she is hopeful that the continuous efforts to fight addiction, combined with proper communication and communal understanding of the problem, will see even better results in the next few years. She said, “Addiction is one thing that isn’t picky about who it chooses. It crosses all socioeconomic barriers, so it’s something that we all have to participate in the discussion.”
It is important to note that communication with health professionals will be the key in helping pregnant women struggling with substance abuse deal with their problem and in fighting NAS.