NAS: Rise in substance abuse during pregnancy

Not all babies are born into a loving environment after months of waiting for that bundle of joy to get here. One of the most heart-wrenching things anyone could witness is a newborn baby suffering drug withdrawal. Couples who have adopted “crack” babies have been through so much with their children, and then some. Now it’s been reported that other drugs of choice have superseded cocaine.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and the Ohio Department of Health issued an epidemiological report last month regarding “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Drug Use Among Pregnant Women in Ohio 2004-2011. The purpose of the study “is to describe trends and patterns of infants hospitalized for NAS, describe the burden of NAS on Ohio’s health care system, and characterize drug use among pregnant females at time of delivery and in addiction treatment.”

The report looks at data provided by the Ohio Hospital Association. Included information was reported by 167 hospitals and 16 health care systems in Ohio.

What is NAS? It occurs when a fetus is exposed to noxious substances through the placenta or breast milk. Data suggests an increasing number of infants are exposed to opioids (i.e., heroin and prescription pain medication.)

The U.S. National Library of Medicine ( defines NAS as a group of problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs while in the mother’s womb. Babies of mothers who drink during pregnancy may have a similar condition.

The substances pass through the placenta to the baby during pregnancy. The placenta is the organ that connects the baby to its mother in the womb. The baby becomes addicted along with the mother.

At birth the baby is still dependent on the drug. Because the baby is no longer getting the drug after birth, symptoms of withdrawal may occur, the library advises. Symptoms depend on the drug involved and may begin 1-3 days after birth or 5-10 days after.

The NAS report advises that infants born with NAS are at risk for a variety of conditions including pre-term birth, low birth weight, feeding difficulties, respiratory distress, seizures, irritability and fever or unstable temperature.

Between 2004 and 2011 the annual number of inpatient hospitalizations related to opioids increased 540 percent, and opioids became the common drug of exposure in 2010 and through 2011.

“Health care providers need to be aware of the rapidly rising rates of NAS and drug use among pregnant women,” advises the study. “More education and outreach efforts are needed on the adverse effect of drug use among women and their babies.”

This health issue has been labeled “epidemic.” NAS is a heavy burden for the Ohio healthcare system. For example, in 2011, NAS cost $70 million in charges and almost 19,000 days in Ohio hospitals. The average inpatient charge was five times higher for NAS babies than all Ohio infants. Health outcomes for NAS infants are typically poor, the report shows.

Research further indicates that mothers-to-be who may be on lower dosages of the medications listed, will have different results in the baby’s withdrawal symptoms. Dr. Karl Getzinger, Medical Director at Family Recovery Center states that he is finding babies born to mothers who are either Suboxone or Methadone medications are showing to have shorter stays in the neo-natal units of hospitals.

OhioMHAS is committed to helping the alcohol and drug abuse problem among pregnant women. The Kasich Administration is addressing the NAS epidemic with the MOMS (Maternal Opiate Medical Support) Project which is expected to support interventions and prenatal treatments while reducing the cost of specialized care and also supporting some expenses not covered by Medicaid. The bottom line is assuring treatment for addiction that will result in reducing risk to the health and well being of both baby and mother.

Family Recovery Center conducts a Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) program for individuals throughout the area who may need this type of medical and clinical support during pregnancy. The MAT is held both in Lisbon and Salem offices.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related mental health issues. For more information, contact FRC at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail,

The holiday season is here. Remember to “Drive Sober, or Get Pulled Over.” Enjoy the season safely.