Prescription Drug Addiction Among Pregnant Women

Along with the rising prescription drug abuse in our country comes another danger – drug addiction among newborns. Drug addicted moms are finding out that no matter what they do, it is very hard to keep their baby from having withdrawal symptoms.

Quitting Cold Turkey

Moms that abuse prescription drugs like OxyContin are more likely to have difficult pregnancies. Some women who find out they are pregnant will quit their drugs cold turkey. While this is not recommended for pregnant women, some moms do it. Not only do the women go through withdrawal symptoms that can be dangerous to their health, but they are also at a much greater risk for miscarrying. Their developing infants can suffer seizures and other serious complications, such as birth defects, glaucoma, spina bifida, and heart defects.

Continuing in Drug Abuse

On the other hand, a mother who continues to abuse prescription drugs while pregnant is also harming her baby. Along with the possibility for birth defects comes withdrawal symptoms after birth. These babies are born needing treatment and sometimes medication for drug addiction, causing their first few days of life to be very distressing. Some of the babies are given small doses of methadone, Phenobarbital, or clonidine to reverse the symptoms of withdrawal, stop seizure activity, and sedate their tiny bodies.

Methadone Treatment

Other pregnant women will seek help from a doctor in order to sober up. This step is also difficult because not many doctors will take on these cases, because of the fear of harming the infant in utero. Still, some women addicted to prescription painkillers do go on methadone therapy to safely relieve withdrawal symptoms. Methadone keeps a small amount of opioids in the recovering body, supposedly with less risk of dependence, in the hopes that the addict can gradually recover and be weaned off. In the case of a pregnant woman, her baby will also be getting the methadone doses, which causes many of these babies to be born addicted to methadone. While the mom may more easily be able to recover, the baby once again suffers withdrawal symptoms in the first few days of life. Babies born with an opioid addiction cry excessively, have stiff limbs, and may suffer from tremors, all of which can keep these newborns in the hospital for weeks, recovering.

It is hard to say what, if any, long term effects will occur because of a newborn’s addiction. Unfortunately, many of these babies are going to continue to suffer at the hands of parents who may or may not still be addicted to drugs, but may also have other issues that limit their ability to parent. “Most of the literature suggests consistently that the drug exposure itself is not the primary concern,” said Karol Kaltenbach, a professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia who studies addiction in pregnant women. “It’s the cumulative effect of the drug-using lifestyle – poverty, chaos in the home, domestic violence. All those things affect development.” (1)

We as a society need to keep working to curb all kinds of drug addiction. We need to be ready to step in and help these mothers and babies that are in need of strategies to live a drug free life.

Sources

(1) Littlest victims of Rx abuse: Newborns

Opioids

Opiate withdrawal