The number of drug-dependent newborns is climbing higher than Tennessee officials expected.
It’s a number that’s been trending up, even before the state started requiring hospitals to report each case. The mothers of such babies were often taking painkillers, or drugs like Xanax or Valium, while pregnant. The newborns may suffer seizures, tremors, or trouble feeding or sleeping. Tennessee has tallied around 550 such cases since January, and could surpass 800 this winter.
The mothers were using drugs illegally in many cases, but hardly in all, says Michael Warren, a doctor with the state Department of Health. He says more than 40 percent of moms were taking only drugs prescribed to them.
“We think a lot of folks don’t know the association between these medications and the likelihood their baby could be born and go through withdrawal.”
Treatment for those newborns is a heavy lift, often costing eight times as much, adding tens of thousands of dollars to a hospital bill. Ultimately that costs Tennessee millions, since the state foots the bill for hundreds of cases each year.
Several top state officials have been calling for months on the federal Food and Drug Administration to help step up warnings to doctors and women (PDF of a letter from last fall here). The FDA says it’s looking at the problem.
(Link here to the Tennessee Department of Health’s main page on Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.)