Society and Culture

America’s Drug War: Sharp Increase in Babies Born Addicted to Opioids

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Researchers have recently seen a sharp increase in babies–particularly babies born in rural areas–with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). This means that the babies are essentially born addicted to the drugs that their mothers used when pregnant. This phenomenon is just yet another depressing side effect of the sharp increase in the number of people addicted to opioids in the United States.

According to the study, which was published online earlier this week in JAMA Pediatrics, the increase of babies born with NAS in rural areas rose dramatically between 2004 and 2013. During that time period in rural areas, the incidences of NAS increased from 1.2 cases per 1,000 hospital births to 7.5 cases per 1,000 hospital births. It’s important to note that cases in cities rose as well, just not as sharply. In cities, there were 1.4 cases per 1,000 hospital births in 2004, and 4.8 cases per 1,000 hospital births in 2013. There was also some variability from state to state. Hawaii saw the lowest rate, at .7 cases per 1,000 births. West Virginia saw the highest, with 33.4 cases per 1,000 births. The researchers did acknowledge that the increase in cases could also come from the fact that there’s increased recognition of the symptoms, and better reporting metrics than there used to be.

But these numbers aren’t that surprising if you’ve paid attention to the nationwide opioid crisis. Rural areas have been particularly hard hit. Dr. Joshua Brown, a researcher at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy in Gainesville, told Business Insider:

Substance abuse is generally higher in rural communities, where an inability to afford or access care as well as the stigma associated with addiction may mean fewer mothers get the help they need to stop using heroin or abusing prescription painkillers during pregnancy.

President Barack Obama has recently taken some action to try to ameliorate the opioid crisis. The 21st Century Cures Act was recently passed by Congress and signed by Obama, and designates a significant amount of money specifically to fighting the opioid epidemic. This could be a boon for rural communities struggling with addiction, but as shown by recent evidence, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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