The number of infants born to American mothers addicted to prescription pain medications is rising. The new research supports recent recommendations to screen or test pregnant women for substance abuse, according to the study's authors.
Done over three years at one US hospital, the study included 40 painkiller-exposed newborns in the first year, 57 in the second year, and 63 in the third year. Researchers determined that 50 percent to 60 percent of the babies developed neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which includes withdrawal symptoms and complications.
These infants remained in the hospital after birth for an average of 23 days. A healthy drug-free newborn usually only stays in the hospital for one or two days. The average stay for painkiller-exposed newborns without NAS was five days, the study found.
"At our institution, costs associated with treating infants with NAS are exponentially higher than the costs associated with infants not affected," wrote Dr. Kay Roussos-Ross, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and colleagues from the University of Florida College of Medicine.
In the study, the cost of treatment for newborns with NAS rose from $1.1 million in the first year to $1.5 million in the second year. In the third year, costs increased to $1.8 million. Compared to healthy newborns, costs to treat babies with NAS were 15 to 16 times higher, according to the study.
The findings add to previous studies that found high costs for treating babies born to women addicted to painkillers. Most of the treatment is paid for by state Medicaid programs.
A number of major medical groups have called for universal drug screening during pregnancy, but it is not yet standard practice, the study authors noted.
The findings were published recently in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
Image: Newborn baby feet on female hands from Shutterstock.