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HEALTH Reports Doubling in Number of Babies Born Dependent on Drugs

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome rates rising in tandem with drug overdose rates

Providence-- Rates of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome have continued to rise in Rhode Island after nearly doubling from 4.4 per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 8.3 per 1,000 live births (90 cases) in 2012. Already in the first quarter of 2014, 26 newborns (11.0 per 1,000* live births) have received the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome diagnosis. The rising rates are significant in that they parallel the rising rates of unintentional drug overdose deaths in recent years.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome refers to the withdrawal and series of ill effects often experienced by a child born to a mother dependent on illicit drugs or pharmaceutical drugs (most commonly opioids like prescription pain medications or heroin). Infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome may have difficulty feeding and sleeping and suffer from symptoms like diarrhea. Babies with prolonged symptoms may also be at higher risk for developmental delays.

"This is an example of the intergenerational tragedy in our state caused by the disease of addiction," said Director of Health Michael Fine, MD. "Every baby deserves a healthy start in life. We can—and must—minimize the devastating impact of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome by supporting women and families at risk for addiction before, during, and after pregnancy through evidence-based services like our Nurse-Family Partnership, Healthy Families America, and Parents as Teachers home visiting programs."

Mothers giving birth to babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome are on average about 30 years old, and many have completed some post-secondary education. The majority holds at least a high school diploma or GED and is single, on public health insurance, white, and non-Hispanic.

HEALTH analyzed newborn screening and hospital discharge data for babies born to Rhode Islanders in the state's birthing hospitals to calculate rates of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and associated maternal demographics.

Rhode Island already screens all newborns for a variety of health conditions and risk factors, including Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. In addition to ensuring access to medical care after birth, HEALTH supports evidence-based programs that provide home visits to families prenatally and through the first 2-3 years of a child's life. These programs can help families connect with services in their community, including treatment for substance use. Home visiting is available, by request or referral, for any pregnant woman or new family who will accept a little extra support, including women using drugs.

* Data are provisional

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