Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) Rates Increased Dramatically Amid Opioid Abuse Nationwide: Report

The rates of babies born with drug withdrawal symptoms increased significantly from 2010 to 2017, as the rates of women diagnosed with opioid use disorder also rose dramatically during the same period, according to the findings of a new study.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a serious condition which occurs when an infant is exposed to drugs during pregnancy and experiences withdrawal symptoms after being born, which may range from mild to severe and last for weeks.

In findings published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)m researchers indicate that neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) rates increased 82% during the 7 years ending in 2017, and the rates of maternal opioid-diagnosis (MOD) increased 131% during the period, which includes any diagnosis for a mother that involves opioid use or abuse during pregnancy.

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) conducted a cross-sectional analysis of the 2010 and 2017 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project’s National Inpatient Sample and State Inpatient Database, a compendium of hospital discharge records from community non-rehabilitation hospitals in 47 states and Washington D.C.

The study included 11.8 million hospitalizations from 47 states and the District of Columbia. Roughly 750,000 birth hospitalizations and 748,000 delivery hospitalizations occurred during that time. Overall, 5,300 newborns were born with NAS and 6,000 women had MOD documented at discharge.

As the opioid abuse crisis has worsened throughout the United States over the past decade, so has the number of mothers and infants affected by drug use and addiction. Opioids now account for nearly 70% of all overdose deaths and states in the East have been hit the hardest.

The rate of NAS went from 4 per 1,000 births to 7.3 per 1,000 birth hospitalizations, increasing by 3.3 per 1,000 births. Similarly, MOD rates increased by 4.6 per 1,000 delivery hospitalizations; from 3.5 per 1,000 to 8.2 per 1,000 delivery hospitalizations.

Rates significantly increased nationally overall. However, increases for the majority of states were also seen from 2010 to 2017.

NAS rates ranged from 1.3 per 1,000 births in Nebraska to 53.5 in West Virginia. In Maine the rate was 31 per 1,000, in Vermont 29, and Kentucky 24 per 1,000 birth hospitalizations.

MOD rates ranged from 1.7 per 1,000  in Nebraska to 47 per 1,000 delivery hospitalizations in Vermont. In West Virginian the rate was 40, Maine 37, and Kentucky 23 per 1,000 delivery hospitalizations.

Prior studies have linked prenatal opioid exposure to lower cognitive scores in the child later and stunted physical development. Other studies have also shown NAS rates have skyrocketed in recent years.

From 2010 to 2017, states across the country had increases of 100% or more for both infants with drug withdrawal symptoms and rates of women diagnosed with opioid use disorder.

Opioid abuse has reached record levels in the United States, spurred by inappropriate doctor prescribing habits for patients who don’t even need them to treat their pain, greatly worsening the opioid abuse epidemic.

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