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US Seeing Dramatic Increase In Drug-Addicted Babies: Infants Grow Up With Memory, Hearing Problems [VIDEO]

Update Date: Mar 29, 2017 10:31 AM EDT

The United States is seeing a dramatic increase in drug-addicted babies who got exposed to opioids while they were in their mothers' wombs. Newborns suffer from a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS.

The rate of drug-addicted babies in the U.S. soared to more than 21,700 babies born in 2012, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That number was five times lower in 2000.

NAS is blamed for newborns' longer and more expensive hospital stays, as well as long-term health consequences such as behavioral and developmental problems. Babies with the condition stay in the hospital for an average of 16.9 days. Infants who are not drug-addicted, in contrast, only stay in the hospital for 2.1 days.

A newborn with NAS requires around $66,700 worth of hospital costs, while healthy babies only need $3,500. The rate of drug-addicted babies is seeing alarming levels in Ohio.

In 2015, the rate of drug-addicted babies in the state rose to 159 per 10,000 live births. That number was eight times higher than in 2005, a year when only 19 newborns per 10,000 live births have NAS, the U.S. News & World Report stated.

Fetuses exposed to opiate drugs (heroin, codeine, oxycodone or Oxycontin, methadone and buprenorphine) are born with irritability, excessive or high-pitched crying, sleep difficulties, hyperactive reflexes, tremors, vomiting and loose stools. Infants in withdrawal from opiate drugs also display sweating, fever, tachypnea (abnormally rapid breathing) and mottling (spotty and blotchy skin), MedlinePlus listed.

The Ohio Department of Health said that 84 drug-addicted babies are being treated every day in the state. Caring for those infants occupied more than $133 million of Ohio's health system charges in 2015.

Mothers who take excessive amounts of opiate drugs while pregnant subject their unborn babies to long-term health problems and are perfect candidates for opiate and pain management programs. The infants are more likely to have problems in vision, cognitive and motor development, meaning they grow up with short attention spans, are impulsive and hyperactive, and have poor memory and perceptual skills. 

They can also develop otitis media or inflammatory disease in the middle ear. The condition, which is commonly associated with methadone use, leads to hearing loss and eventually, language delays.

Doctors also use opiates to treat babies with NAS, though they administer them in small and controlled doses. The newborns are kept in rooms with low lighting, quiet sounds and swaddled and held in special techniques so they will feel soothed. The treatment can go on between two to six weeks.

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