Opioid crisis: 7 out of every 1,000 babies born in the US has to be treated for opioid withdrawal

The US spent $572.7 million in 2016 to treat children born with this condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when a baby withdraws from certain drugs he/she was exposed to in the mother’s womb.


                            Opioid crisis: 7 out of every 1,000 babies born in the US has to be treated for opioid withdrawal
Infants born after exposure to opioids often need prolonged hospitalizations to manage their needs (Getty Images)

Every 15 minutes a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal in the US and this is costing the nation. 

The rate of incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) or drug withdrawal syndrome in the US has increased from 1.5 per 1000 hospital births in 2004 to 6.7 per 1000 hospital births in 2016, according to new estimates by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This shows that the opioid crisis in the US has affected a substantial number of pregnant women and their babies, say experts.

Infants born after exposure to opioids often need prolonged hospitalizations to manage their needs. The latest CDC estimates show that to treat children who are born with this condition $572.7 million are being spent annually in the US, an average of $22,552 per child.

Opioid use during pregnancy can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome, which refers to a group of conditions that occurs when a baby withdraws from certain drugs he/she was exposed to in the mother’s womb. Newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome are more likely than other babies to also have low birth weight and respiratory complications. This results in costly hospital stays, say experts.

Previous estimates show that the number of women with an opioid use disorder at the time of delivery quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, and diagnoses of neonatal abstinence syndrome rose seven-fold from 2000 to 2014. For the current study, the experts used data from the 2016 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Kids’ Inpatient Database (KID), a nationally representative sample of all-payer pediatric discharges.

The analysis shows that among 1,289,728 hospital births in the US in 2016, 19,397 infants were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. 

The use of opioids during pregnancy can result in a drug withdrawal syndrome in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome. This results in costly hospital stays, say experts. (Getty Images)

“The overall incidence rate of NAS was 6.7 per 1000 in-hospital births in 2016. The rates were highest among American Indian/Alaska Native individuals (15.9 per 1000) and non-Hispanic white individuals (10.5 per 1000), the lowest income quartile (9.3 per 1000), rural areas (10.6 per 1000), and the Northeast (9.5 per 1000),” says the study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

According to the researchers, neonatal abstinence syndrome is an important indicator of the immediate effect of the opioid crisis. The CDC estimates that in 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it a leading cause of injury-related death in the US. Of those deaths, almost 68% involved a prescription or illicit opioid. The research team says that infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome had a 15.9-day mean length of stay in 2016, and the total overall hospitalization costs were $572.7 million. 

Characteristics and rates of infants who received a diagnosis of neonatal abstinence syndrome versus all other US hospital births, 2016. (JAMA Pediatrics)

The analysis shows that neonatal abstinence syndrome rates were highest among Medicaid-covered births (12.3 per 1000) and those without insurance (7.0 per 1000). The total costs were highest for births covered by Medicaid ($477.0 million), says the study.

“While total costs have increased since 2012, the total length of stay and the proportion of costs by payer were consistent with prior research. In 2016, Medicaid was responsible for 83% of charges for in-hospital births with a NAS diagnosis, indicating that state and federal budgets may continue to bear disproportionate costs as the opioid crisis evolves,” say the researchers in their findings.

The team says: “These nationally representative results demonstrate the continuing association of the opioid crisis with maternal and infant health.”

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.