The opioid crisis has reached many different people. Opioid use is running rampant and people are becoming addicted and even dying from it. While this is seen all over the television and the news, there seem to be forgotten victims. These victims are the infants born to women who are addicted to opioids. Infant dependency on opioids is an increasing problem.
Babies are being born addicted to opioids because their mothers were unable to fight their own addiction. Babies born with narcotics addiction go through neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). They must endure withdrawal from the narcotics. Because the drugs passed through the placenta during pregnancy, every drug the mother took the baby did too. Symptoms of withdrawal on an hour old baby include:
- High-pitched crying
- Poor feeding
These symptoms start very shortly after birth and can last up to 6 months. This means the child is suffering through many of these withdrawal symptoms from basically the time they are born until months down the line. Additionally, problems can occur before the baby is even born, including premature birth, birth defects, and poor intrauterine growth.
So, even though the baby may survive to get through the withdrawal of the narcotics, they may have lifelong complications to deal with. These children need more medical care than most, putting a strain on resources. Many times, these children do not return to their birth mother, so they enter the child protective services system. Their problems and medical history make it more difficult to place these children in foster homes and even up for adoption.
These children did not ask to be born to drug-addicted mothers and they certainly did not ask to experience the effects of the drug use. However, because their mothers chose to abuse opioids during pregnancy (and probably before and after), these children are at the mercy of a system that is already overloaded with children looking for homes. They are the ones that everyone seems to have forgotten about.
Furthermore, as more and more infants are born addicted to opioids, the hospitals (in particular the neo-natal departments) are becoming overwhelmed by the need to care for these children. Some hospitals have even opened special units to care for drug-dependent babies. Hospitals are finding it necessary to turn away other newborns because they are at capacity with these babies. They are overwhelmed with children who did not have to be born in the critical state.
More attention needs to be given to the children of opioid-addicted mothers. It is unfair that these mothers are purposefully saddling their children and society with this generation of children. This crisis is new and we do not know how they will be affected long-term. We just have to wait and see. Although it has been shown that there is an increased chance of ADHD in children born addicted to narcotics, no one can tell what other problems, behavioral or cognitive these children might endure.
Thankfully, there have been some advances in the medications that aid in weaning infants off of narcotics. Doctors are fighting an uphill battle when more and more children need to be taken care of while they are withdrawing from opioids. There are programs and practices that are popping up in hospitals to reduce the amount of time babies are required to spend in the hospital. But, this does not mean these infants are done with their recovery. Recovery may take a long time and the effects of opioid addiction can be permanent.
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