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Tennessee Hospital Sees Spike in Babies Born With Opiate Withdrawal

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In one neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Tennessee, almost half of the babies are going through withdrawal from prescription pills, ABC News reports.

Most of the babies are going through withdrawal from painkillers. In the NICU at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, Carla Saunders, the unit’s head nurse, tells ABC News that it can take weeks or months for babies to withdraw from the drugs in their mother’s body. The average cost is $53,000 per baby.

“When I started, you maybe had a withdrawal baby once in a while and then it was once a month, and then it was once a week and then it was once a day,” she said. “We got six this weekend, all at one time, within almost 48 hours.”

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released updated guidelines for doctors and hospitals on how they can identify and monitor infants exposed to opioids and other drugs of addiction. The group notes there has been an alarming increase in the last decade in the number of newborns who suffer through withdrawal from a variety of opioid drugs.

In some cases, prenatal exposure to drugs may occur because the mother abuses heroin or other illicit substances, or because she is receiving addiction treatment with methadone or buprenorphine. But more and more infants are being affected by exposure in the womb to prescription painkillers, the AAP noted.

Drug exposure during pregnancy can cause many problems in newborns, including drug withdrawal upon birth. Babies can suffer irritability, tremors, seizures, vomiting and shrill crying, as well as long-term problems including birth defects, impaired growth and behavior problems.

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