More And More Tennessee Newborns Dependent On Drugs

State officials say half of pregnancies are unplanned, so they want doctors to talk in advance with women of childbearing age about NAS, or neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Credit USDA/Ken Hammond, via Wikimedia)

State officials say half of pregnancies are unplanned, so they want prescribers to talk in advance with women of childbearing age about NAS, or neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Credit USDA/Ken Hammond, via Wikimedia)

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.

While many mothers in cases of NAS were using drugs illegally, more than 40 percent were taking what they were prescribed. Graph via TDOH

While many mothers in cases of NAS were using drugs illegally, more than 40 percent were taking what they were prescribed. Graph via TDOH

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.)

Please keep your community civil. Comments will be moderated prior to posting, and Nashville Public Radio reserves the right to approve them at its discretion. Comments containing links promoting goods, services - even noble organizations - will not be published. Your comments may include external links, but all comments with links will be delayed as they are reviewed. Comments containing profanity will be rejected.