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Helping Infants with Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Mothers who use opioids, especially long-lasting opioids like Oxycontin, during pregnancy can cause Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in their newborn infants. A child with NAS experiences drug withdrawal symptoms in a similar way to an opioid addict who quits taking such drugs “cold turkey.” According to a article, with the rise in use and abuse of legal and illegal opioids by Americans, medical treatment facilities and professionals are looking for ways to treat newborns who suffer from NAS as a result of their mothers’ opioid use during pregnancy.

Reducing Drug Withdrawal in Newborns

At Thomas Jefferson University, medical professionals and others that are a part of the Maternal Addiction Treatment Education and Research (MATER) program have found that intensive skinto- skin contact between a newborn with NAS and the child’s mother appears to have a pos itive effect on reducing the number of newborns in need of treatment for NAS. Participant mothers and their newborns spend nearly 24 hours a day with one another, and skin-to-skin contact is highly encouraged – especially through breastfeeding. Professionals involved in the MATER program have found that, in newborns with NAS who are breastfed by their mothers, only 35 to 40 percent need additional treatment for NAS symptoms as opposed to 50 percent of newborns with NAS who are not kept in close contact with their mothers. More specifically, according to, it is hypothesized that breastfeeding a newborn with NAS gives the child enough of the opioid that he or she is weaned off of the drug without causing withdrawal symptoms.

Other researchers and medical professionals are testing new drugs that can help reduce the symptoms associated with NAS and reduce the recovery time for the newborn infant. At Thomas Jefferson University, doctors are using buprenorphine as opposed to morphine to treat NAS and have found that the recovery time for NAS newborns has decreased from 33 days to 22 days. At California’s Stanford University, professionals are using the anti-vomiting drug ondansetron to prevent and manage withdrawal symptoms with some measure of success.

Preventing NAS in the First Place

Of course, rather than reducing recovery times for newborns with NAS it would be much more preferable to reduce the incidence rate of NAS in the first place. This will require steps to address the use and abuse of long-lasting opioids like OxyContin during pregnancy. Doctors who prescribe opioids when they are not needed, who prescribe addictive opioids like OxyContin to pregnant women without considering alternatives, or who fail to adequately monitor their patients so that they can be taken off opioids if they become pregnant contribute the persistence and prevalence of opioid abuse in the general population and NAS in newborns.

If you believe that a doctor has caused injury to a mother or child because of a failure to properly manage the mother’s opioid use during pregnancy, compensation may be available. Contact the birth injury and pharmaceutical litigation attorneys at Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C., by phone or online to learn what steps you should take to obtain damages for the financial and physical harm you and your child may have suffered.

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