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How Pediatricians Can Help Babies Exposed to Drugs


The past decade has witnessed an alarming increase in the number of newborn infants who suffer through withdrawal from a variety of opioid drugs (narcotics). Prenatal exposure to these drugs may occur in the setting of maternal abuse of illicit substances (e.g., heroin) or in situations where the mother is receiving supervised treatment for addiction with drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine.  But more and more frequently, infants are being affected by exposure in the womb to prescription painkillers. In many cases, these powerful drugs are being ordered by physicians to treat pain associated with a chronic maternal condition, but sometimes mothers obtain these drugs surreptitiously. 

The revised American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report, "Neonatal Drug Withdrawal," appearing in the February 2012 Pediatrics (published online Jan. 30), outlines steps that clinicians and hospitals can take to identify and monitor infants exposed to opioids and other drugs of addiction. The report also updates information from the medical literature about current treatment options for neonatal opioid withdrawal and highlights the need for further research to develop treatments that are safer and more effective and that will result in a shorter treatment time and hospital stay. Reducing the number of cases of neonatal opioid withdrawal will require a partnership of the medical community with government and other health organizations to educate women and providers about this problem, to identify alternative pain management options during pregnancy, and to eliminate non-prescribed access to powerful painkillers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.