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Florida Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns Releases Report

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A task force of doctors, public health experts and social workers in Florida has released a report designed to combat the growing problem of babies born to mothers who are addicted to prescription drugs.

The report found more than 1,560 babies born in Florida in 2011 were diagnosed with symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). These babies often spend three weeks in neonatal intensive care, with a cost as high as $53,400 per baby. In contrast, the typical hospital cost for a healthy newborn is $9,500, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

NAS babies suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, abdominal pain, incessant crying, rapid breathing, and sometimes seizures, the report notes.

The task force made recommendations in the areas of prevention, intervention and best practices, and treatment. It recommended that hospitals be required to report babies born with symptoms of NAS, as they do with babies born with infectious diseases such as measles and tuberculosis. The group wants to help treatment facilities reach more women, and recommended considering new laws to offer pregnant women immunity for seeking substance abuse treatment.

Task force member Dr. Ken Solomon, a neonatologist, told the newspaper more research is needed to identify the best way to treat newborns in withdrawal. He noted that some hospitals administer methadone, while others use morphine.

Neonatologist Dr. Mary Newport said she is concerned about the long-term effects of NAS. At her hospital, 30 percent of neonatal intensive care unit admissions last year involved drug exposure. “We’ve had this rash of all of these children who had this very intense drug exposure, and then withdrawal and treatment for that. They are about to hit the school system,” Dr. Newport said.

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