Maine Sees Surge in Newborns Exposed to Opioids

The increasing number of women addicted to painkillers in Maine has had a particularly unfortunate consequence—a growing number of babies who have been exposed to opioids before birth and experience withdrawal symptoms after being born.

The Portland Press Herald reports more than 570 babies were born in Maine in 2010 to mothers who used prescription painkillers. That number has tripled in six years.

Most of the newborns born to mothers who use opioids experience withdrawal and need weeks of hospital treatment, often with small doses of methadone or morphine administered daily. According to the article, the average cost to treat each baby is $25,000.

Babies whose mothers were treated for addiction during pregnancy and took controlled doses of methadone or Suboxone often are able to go home after two to four weeks, with no immediate complications.

The outlook is not as good for babies whose mothers do not seek treatment, or who try to quit on their own. These women are much more likely to miscarry, or to give birth prematurely to babies with higher birth defect rates, according to the article. If a woman using drugs stops suddenly during pregnancy, the uterus can twitch and contract, putting the pregnancy in danger, notes Dr. Mark Brown, a neonatologist at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Marie Hayes of the University of Maine is studying the effect of opioid withdrawal on babies’ brains. She has seen developmental delays in a higher percentage of babies who go through opioid withdrawal than those who do not, but she says it is too soon to know if they will have long-term problems.

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    October 20, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    The City of Portland’s Public Health Division has been working to address this issue for nearly 3 years. Here is a link to their poster which was distributed among the City to help educate providers AND the community. Efforts are on-going.

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