Doctors in Kentucky See Increase in Babies Born to Drug-Dependent Mothers

A year after health experts gathered in Kentucky to discuss how to deal with the problem of babies born to drug-dependent mothers, the state has seen a surge in babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

NAS is the condition caused by exposure to narcotics during pregnancy. Symptoms include constant high-pitched crying, vomiting, diarrhea, low-grade fever, seizures and tremors. Premature babies with the syndrome may experience respiratory distress and are put on ventilators.

At the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has discharged 204 babies with NAS as of this month, up from 154 in 2013, and 130 in 2012. Statewide, 955 babies were hospitalized for NAS in 2013, up from 67 in 2001.

Henrietta Bada, a neonatologist at the hospital, says doctors are frustrated because there is a lack of care for mothers who are addicted to drugs. The lack of care continues after the baby is born, she told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In June, the state announced the Kentucky Perinatal Quality Collaborative, which will address the rising number of infants born with NAS.

“The time has come to treat neonatal abstinence syndrome like the true national public health emergency it is,” Eric Reynolds, MD, President of the Kentucky Perinatal Association, said in a news release when the collaborative was announced. “In addition to the acute withdrawal syndrome as a newborn, infants affected by NAS are at increased risk for SIDS, abusive head trauma, attention and behavioral problems at school age, and their own addictive behaviors as adults.”