NASHVILLE — A task force of state health officials is trying to reverse an alarming rise in the number of babies born addicted to drugs in Tennessee.
Babies born addicted suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, often spending many days in the hospital as they go through the painful withdrawal process, experiencing seizures, tremors, fever and vomiting.
The Health Department reports that the number of babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome increased tenfold between 2000 and 2010. In the last two years alone, more than a thousand babies have been born dependent on addictive drugs.
To combat the growing problem, the Health Department will begin requiring hospitals to report babies born with the syndrome beginning on Jan. 1. That will allow health officials to identify cases more quickly. But it doesn’t prevent the addiction in the first place.
As part of that effort, state health officials also have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to place a black box warning on prescription painkillers that alerts physicians to the harm they can cause a fetus.
The problem is also costly to Tennesseans, with the hospital costs of a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome receiving TennCare benefits averaging nearly $41,000 in 2010. That compares to hospital costs of about $7,000 for a baby born in 2010 who received TennCare benefits and was not addicted to drugs.
“Babies suffering from NAS often face a multitude of challenges during the first few weeks of life,” state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said in a news release announcing the task force’s efforts.
“I’ve talked with many clinicians across Tennessee who have become used to seeing wounds and illnesses, but even the most seasoned health care workers have a difficult time watching a helpless infant going through the painful process of withdrawal.”