The cost of caring for a generation born addicted to opioids: The US spent $570 MILLION treating infants in withdrawal in 2016
- In 2016, 6.7 out of every 1,000 babies born in the US were addicted to opioids
- So-called neonatal abstinence syndrome infants have been exposed in the womb and go into withdrawals once they are born
- These babies are at greater risk of being born small and premature
- Some have to be treated with morphine or methadone for opioids withdrawals
- Each infant cost an average of $22,552 to care for, for a total expenditure of $572.7 million in 2016, according to new CDC figures
In 2016, nearly seven out of every 1,000 babies born in the US had been exposed to opioids and were born with withdrawal symptoms, a new study reveals.
Altogether, infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) cost the American health care system some $572 million that year, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The rate of infants born with NAS tripled from 1999 to 2013, then increased by nearly another 12 percent from 2013 to 2016.
NAS babies are at greater risks of low birth weights, premature birth, seizures, birth defects and some studies suggest they may have developmental issues and higher risks of SIDS and drug use themselves.
In 2016, 6.7 out of every babies born in the US were in withdrawal after being exposed to opioids in their mothers wombs. Babies like Isabella (pictured) often require treatment that costs an average of $22,552 per infant, CDC figures reveal (file)
‘Neonatal abstinence syndrome is an important indicator of the immediate effect of the opioid crisis,’ the study authors wrote in JAMA Pediatrics.
In 2016, the US opioid epidemic was nearly at its peak, with 42,000 deadly overdoses.
In 2017 (the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), about 1.4 percent of pregnant women reported using an opioid drug in the past month – a 17 percent increase over the previous year.
In addition to putting themselves at risk of addiction and other health issues – including overdose – developing infants share their mothers’ blood supplies, meaning they too are exposed to the drugs.
While the baby is developing, opioids can impede the development of the placenta, the sac that encloses the fetus and provides it with nutrients and oxygen.
As a result, the baby may not what he or she needs to grow rapidly and healthily over the nine months of pregnancy.
Scientists are still working out exactly how NAS affects babies, but as soon as they’re born and no longer receiving opioids from their mothers’ bloodstreams.
So they quickly go into withdrawal from the drugs.
They are fussy, irritable and difficult to quiet.
Swaddling them tightly will help, but the primary treatment for many babies requires giving them low doses of morphine or methadone.
In the sample of more than 1.28 million births in 2016, 19,397 babies were born in withdrawal.
That accounted for 6.7 out of every 1,000 births that year.
Rates of NAS were higher among babies born to poor mothers as 9.3 out of every 1,000 babies born to mothers in the lowest income quartile were born in withdrawal.
NAS was also disproportionately common was among babies born in rural hospitals, who accounted for 10.6 out per 1,000 babies born in these areas.
The highest rates were among infants born to mothers who were insured by Medicare (12.3 per every 1,000 births).
Care, including withdrawal treatment for some, cost an average of $22,552.
And because the largest proportion of NAS infants were covered by government subsidized health care (83 percent) their care was covered by taxpayer dollars.
In total, Medicare covered NAS births cost $477 million in 2016.
More broadly, infant exposure to opioids cost the American health care system $572.7 million in total.