The opioid crisis that is sweeping across the nation is affecting the youngest in our population. Infants born with drug withdrawal symptoms caused by maternal drug use during pregnancy are said to have neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Burnett County has the fifth highest rate of NAS in Wisconsin. In Burnett County, from 2009 to 2014, for every 1,000 babies delivered almost 12 of those babies were diagnosed with NAS.

Women may be taking opioids for a number of reasons. Some women may be taking opioids as are prescribed by their doctor opioids to alleviate chronic pain or to help them get off stop using other drugs, like heroin. Others may be addicted and seek out opioids without a prescription. Furthermore, many women of reproductive age who take prescription opioids may not know they are pregnant and unknowingly expose their unborn child.

NAS can be diagnosed after a baby is born based on the mother’s history of drug exposure, lab testing, and clinical signs. Infants usually show signs of withdrawal from opioids one to seven days after birth. The severity of symptoms differs depending on the infant’s level of exposure. Long term effects of NAS

Signs and Symptoms of NAS
·         Irritability, fussiness

·         Increased muscle tone

·         Sleep problems

·         High-pitched cry

·         Skin breakdown on knees and face

·         Tremors, seizures

·         Poor feeding, spitting up

·         Skin breakdown on buttocks

·         Dehydration

·         Diarrhea

·         Excessive sucking

·         Nasal stuffiness, sneezing

·         Frequent episodes of hiccups

·         Sweating

·         Frequent yawning

·         Fast breathing, forgetting to breathe

·         Fever

Infants born with NAS may be treated with medications and by creating a calm environment. Overstimulation, which can aggravate the symptoms of NAS, can be decreased with soft lighting and reduced noise. Still, the best treatment of NAS is to prevent it.

Pregnant women who have an opioid-use disorder should not stop using opioids “cold turkey” because this could result in even more serious consequences for the unborn child. Instead, pregnant women using opioids should get regularly scheduled prenatal care so that a health care provider can closely monitor the health of the mom and her baby. Studies show that regular prenatal care improves the health outcomes of babies born to moms who used drugs during pregnancy, compared to little or no prenatal care.

Yet, pregnant women who use opioids face many barriers that prevent them from getting access to the care they need. The stigma surrounding addiction is isolating and may prevent women for seeking help. Even for those are able to overcome the stigma, some healthcare providers will refuse to accept women who are using drugs during pregnancy as their patients. In order to create a community that supports healthy moms and healthy babies, it is important to recognize addiction as a disease instead of a human flaw.  If you or someone you know is pregnant and using drugs, you can call the Burnett County Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Office at 715-349-7600 and ask for the Mental Health Unit.

Submitted by: Dana Fulton, Perinatal Illicit Drug Use Task Force Facilitator

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