02-23 | CDAH Team
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a postnatal drug withdrawal syndrome that affects an infant who has been exposed to addictive opioid drugs while in the mother’s womb. Opioid pain relievers, such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin, reach the fetus through the placenta during pregnancy. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that in every 25 minutes, an NAS baby is born, and there has been a “fivefold increase in the proportion of babies born with NAS from 2000 to 2012.”
Withdrawal symptoms depend upon a number of factors such as the type and quantity of drug consumed, duration of addiction, body’s mechanism to break down and clear the drug, and whether the baby is born preterm or full-term. The symptoms begin to surface as early as within three days and are characterized by excessive or high-pitched crying, trembling, poor feeding, seizures, rapid breathing, diarrhea and sweating.
So far, there is limited research which has analyzed the long-term outcomes of NAS-affected children. An old study by Australian researchers attempted to examine the effect of NAS on the academic performance of the affected children. The study, results of which were published in the journal Pediatrics on Jan. 16, 2017, observed over 2,200 children born with NAS in New South Wales, Australia during the period 2000 to 2006. Results were based on tests administered in grades 3, 5 and 7.
A comparison of the test results was made with another group of over 4,300 children not affected by NAS taking into account other factors such as social and economic backgrounds, gender and gestation period. Test results were also matched against one more group comprising over 598,000 children in New South Wales.
It was found that the test scores of children affected by NAS were significantly lower than the scores of the two other groups. By grade 7, the scores deteriorated to worse than those of grade 5 children. According to Dr. Ju-Lee Oei, a senior neonatologist at Royal Hospital for Women in New South Wales and the lead author of the study, the drugs result in premature death of brain cells and inhibit their proper growth.
Dr. Stephen Patrick, an assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, is cautious while analyzing the long-term implications of the study. He mentions that other factors such as the home environment or medication used to treat withdrawal symptoms can also play a role in determining long-term deficiencies in academic performance.
Although Patrick was not a part of the team that carried out the research, he is concerned regarding the possibility of poor performance in school as a result of NAS. He believes that this necessitates additional research to analyze these findings further. Authors of the study also echo a similar view when they mention that families facing addiction tend to be more “socially chaotic.” According to Oei, it is not possible to separately analyze the impact of the home environment in the current study, but she proposes to fill this gap in their next study.
According to Oei, it is necessary to identify, in a timely manner, children affected by NAS and their families so that the required level of support can be provided to them. Such preventive actions have proved to be very successful in high-risk groups, and the long-term gains accruing from these measures are immense.
Prevention is also strongly advocated by Dr. Siobhan Dolan, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, and a medical advisor to the March of Dimes, a not-for-profit organization which funds lifesaving research in the areas of premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality. According to Dolan, evidence is growing regarding the dangers of children with NAS. She recommends identifying women with opioid use disorders and giving them the necessary support and treatment on priority.
The journey undertaken to battle addiction of any kind is long and difficult, but not impossible. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to opioids or other drugs, it is imperative to seek help. The Colorado Drug Addiction Helpline offers the best evidence-based treatment plans for addiction. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-218-7546 to connect to the best drug addiction treatment centers in Colorado. You can also chat online with our representatives for any information on drug rehabilitation centers in Colorado.