Dr. Stephen Patrick from the University of Michigan Health System and co-authors reviewed hospital billing data from across the United States. Researchers examined the number of mothers using opiates at the time of delivery and also whether their newborns exhibited drug withdrawal symptoms.
Dr. Patrick says, "What we found was that from 2000 to 2009 the number of babies having drug withdrawal increased by three times. In addition we found that the number of mothers using opiates at the time of delivery went up by fivefold."
Common opiates include oxycodone and vicodin as well as illicit drugs like heroin. The cost of treating these infants also increased over the study period.
"Common symptoms that babies exhibit after they're born are irritability, difficulty feeding, difficulty breathing, we also know that babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome are more likely to be born with low birth weight," Dr. Patrick says.
And he calls the situation a public health emergency that requires attention from multiple levels from the federal government, from state government and from researchers.
The study is published online first by JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association.