Tennessee sees rise in drug-dependent newborns

(Courtesy: WATE)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee is seeing a rise in the number of babies born dependent on drugs.

According to a new study with researchers from Vanderbilt, Michigan, and Minnesota universities, an increasing number of newborns being born with drug withdrawal symptoms from opioids are in rural areas compared to births in urban areas.

A drug-dependent baby will experience withdrawals shortly after birth; it’s called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). Tennessee has one of the highest rates of NAS in the country.

“We know that the epidemic is getting worse, not better,” said Dr. Stephen Patrick with Vanderbilt University. He helped with the study and has researched NAS over the past five years.

“I hope our study calls attention for more resources for rural communities,” he told News 2.

Dr. Patrick says pregnant women are more vulnerable in rural counties because they have fewer hospitals and clinics.

There are also more opioid prescriptions in rural areas than in their urban and suburban counterparts. Tennessee has the second highest rate of opioid prescriptions in the U.S.

“We need to begin to use fewer opioids and there needs to be a broader conversation about this,” explained Dr. Patrick.

WEB EXTRA: Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Maternal Opioid Use

At Addiction Campuses in Brentwood, treatment specialists receive calls from people around the country struggling with drug addiction.

They say they’re getting more calls from pregnant women addicted to opiates.

“It’s just a huge epidemic,” said Julie Billington, a treatment specialist.

She says moms are often afraid of seeking treatment, which can be dangerous for the mother and the fetus.

“You’ve got baby and you’ve got mom, and if there’s not the appropriate level of care, something bad could happen,” Billngton said.

So far in 2016, 943 babies have been born with NAS and that number is rising.

Babies born with NAS will have trouble sleeping, eating, breathing and they’ll have increased irritability. They must be treated with medication like morphine or methadone.

The good news is data shows there seems to be few long-term effects from NAS.