What is the Economic Cost of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

 

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With the ride of men and women struggling with opioid addiction has come a rise in babies struggling with opioid addiction. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is the technical term for what happens when a mother who has abused opioids or drugs like crystal meth, throughout her pregnancy gives birth to her child, who is born with an addiction. Once the mother and child are separated, the child stops receiving any kind of drugs. Having grown chemically dependent in the womb, the infant is born into immediate opioid withdrawal. For infants, the symptoms of withdrawal are as unbearable as they are for adults, sometimes worse. Whereas adults withdrawing from opioids are known to experience “kicking” or a phenomena similar to restless leg syndrome, babies will shake so relentlessly that they appear to be vibrating. Unable to use their words, babies with neonatal withdrawal syndrome have high pitched irregular crying and screaming to express their discomfort. Difficulty sleeping, sweating, shivering, shaking, and general distress is common. Nursing wards include soft glowing lights and heated blankets to comfort the infants. A common practice is tightly swaddling their bodies to help them feel comfortable and soothed. Regularly, doctors are forced to administer small amounts of liquid morphine to try and soothe the withdrawal symptoms while continuing to detox the small child.

The cost of neonatal abstinence syndrome is severe. Many children lose their lives, unable to fight against the drugs leaving their system. To care for the children who fight their way through, the economic burden can be great. Addiction, a scientific journal, published research on how much treating neonatal abstinence syndrome is costing. Over the course of nine years between 2003 and 2012, hospitalization for these infants nearly quadrupled. Staying for almost four times the amount of time as non-addicted infants, these babies racked up hospital bills almost three times as high- $16,893 versus $5,610, to be exact. The study believes that over $300 million in hospital care was the cost of neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2012. In 2003 that number was only $61 million.

 

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