An alarming number of newborns in the US suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). These babies are exposed to drugs in utero and experience drug withdrawal after birth.
Just like adults in withdrawal, newborns suffer from fever, tremors, indigestion, muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhea, and irritability. Infants with NAS require high-level care and stay an average of 24 days in the hospital.
And the Numbers Keep Growing...
Between 2000 and 2009, NAS diagnoses increased from 1.2 to 3.39 per 1,000 hospital births per year. During that time, the number of moms using opioids during pregnancy increased from 1.19 to 5.63 per 1,000 hospital births.
Unfortunately, no standard guidelines exist for diagnosis and treatment of NAS. Past efforts have fallen short of meeting the full spectrum of needs for data collection and treatment development. Additional research and support is needed to determine how to best help these babies - and their moms.
In response to this growing need, Congress has passed the Protecting Our Infants Act. Its goals include:
- Reducing the number of newborns exposed to drugs
- Improving available treatment for infants with NAS
- Providing healthy outcomes for moms through family-centered treatment that is non-punitive
- Identifying gaps in research and improving data collection efforts
The Protecting Our Infants Act includes several directives to accomplish these goals:
- The act directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to examine and address research gaps, determine the best treatment for pregnant women with opioid use disorders as well as infants with NAS, and collect data to catalogue the effects of prenatal opioid exposure on children.
- It directs the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to conduct a study and develop recommendations for preventing and treating prenatal opioid abuse and NAS.
- It authorizes the CDC to assist states with data collection concerning NAS, to improve data availability and the quality of data collected.
Legislation Addresses Urgent Need
The proposed bill was heavily supported by advocates in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the March of Dimes.
AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP noted, “Every hour, one infant is diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome. There could not be a more critical time to help families affected by substance use and abuse give their babies the healthiest possible start in life...Congress recognized the urgent need to address neonatal abstinence syndrome and responded, working across both sides of the aisle to do what is right for our mothers and newborns.”
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