Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) Increasing Along With Rising Opioid Abuse Nationwide

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From 2004 to 2014, health officials began to sound the alarm, as the number of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) increased five-fold. Yet the problem has only gotten worse in recent years, and 24 states across the country are now reporting increases of 100% or more for infants with drug withdrawal symptoms from 2010 to 2017. 

Opioid abuse in the United States was already reaching record levels in 2019, and the ongoing global pandemic has only worsened the crisis. The opioid epidemic has been aided by doctors inappropriately prescribing pain medication to patients who do not need it, and negligence on the part of drug makers. Although the coronavirus has dominated the headlines over the last year, the attorneys at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt have been closely following developments with the ongoing opioid crisis in an effort to keep consumers informed of the latest trends. 

 

What Is NAS?

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is the term used for a group of symptoms that can appear after a baby is exposed to opioids or other substances while in the womb. Once diagnosed, infants who receive treatment often get better within a few days, but NAS can also cause lifelong problems for the infant’s health and development. 

NAS can be caused by substances other than opioids, such as sleeping pills or antidepressants. It can also be caused by street drugs like heroin, and prescription opioids such as:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)
  • Methadone
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
  • Morphine
  • Tramadol
  • Buprenorphine

How Does a Baby Get NAS?

When a baby is still in the womb, they absorb their mother’s nutritional and medicinal intake through the placenta. Powerful drugs like opioids easily cross through the placenta and affect the unborn child. This can leave an infant with a chemical dependency on whatever drugs their mother is taking, just like the chemical dependency that adults develop when becoming addicted to a substance. 

When the baby is born, they will no longer receive a supply of opiates from their mother, and they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms, just like an adult would. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last days to weeks depending on treatment and severity. 

What Are the Symptoms of NAS?

Symptoms vary from case to case, depending on how frequently the mother used opiates, the baby’s gestational age (how many weeks old the baby was when it was born), or what drugs were taken. Common symptoms can include:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Excessive fussiness
  • Breathing problems
  • Poor feeding or slow weight gain
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Lots of yawning and trouble sleeping

Recent Increases in NAS

JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) reported in early 2021 that NAS has increased by 82% from 2010 to 2017, while mothers with an opioid diagnosis during pregnancy have increased by 131% in the same period. 

The opioid crisis has continued to worsen over the past decade, with opioids causing nearly 47,000 deaths in 2018. Philadelphia has been hit particularly hard by this crisis, with Pennsylvania seeing over 4,000 deaths in the same year. Pennsylvania ranks as the 8th hardest-hit state in the country for rates of NAS, with nearly 15 out of every 1000 newborns hospitalized for NAS.

 

Experience Matters

Multiple studies have linked opioid exposure in the womb to physical and cognitive issues later in life. The effects of NAS can cause lifelong issues for these infants and their families, and the costs of treatment over a lifetime can be astronomical. Yet reports keep coming in of doctors and pharmacies overprescribing opioids, with full knowledge of the dangers they cause. 

The attorneys at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt have successfully brought lawsuits against companies who tried to illegally profit off of opiates, including taking part in a $225 million lawsuit against INSYS Therapeutics, after INSYS paid kickbacks and engaged in other illegal marketing tactics to promote sales of its fentanyl spray, Subsys. This kind of experience is critical in bringing a successful wrongful death, medical malpractice, or qui tam lawsuit against a major pharmaceutical company or medical practice. Contact us for a free consultation today by filling out our form or by calling us directly at 1-866-521-0865.