Expectant moms on opiate drugs: A rising health concern for infants

Over the past five years, drug abuse and teen pregnancy have been rated consistently in the National Poll on Children’s Health as two of the top children’s health concerns in the eyes of adults across the U.S. A new study released this week (press release available at notes a concerning connection between those two problems: about one baby is born each hour withdrawing from opiate drugs because their mother was taking painkillers or illicit drugs during pregnancy.  Poll Director Dr. Matthew Davis was the senior author of the new study.

Teens are some of the expectant moms on opiate drugs, who then are at risk for giving birth to babies in drug withdrawal. The public has historically expressed great concern with both teen pregnancy and drug abuse in the National Poll on Children’s Health. In 2011, 33% of adults rated drug abuse a big problem and 24% rated teen pregnancy as a big problem, making them two of the top five child health concerns in the eyes of the public (see full report).

Given the severity and the increasing prevalence of this national public health concern, there is a clear need for increased measures to reduce the number of babies exposed to drugs during pregnancy. Healthcare providers must be cautious when prescribing opiate pain relievers and be aware of signs of drug abuse. There is also a need for further research into opiate drug use and treatment for newborns that are exposed to these drugs.