By Alan Mozes
December 12, 2016
Rural U.S. communities are seeing a surge in infants experiencing opioid withdrawal at birth because of widespread drug abuse by pregnant women, a new study finds.
These tiny victims of the U.S. opioid epidemic are born addicted to heroin and powerful prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. And this public health crisis is hitting rural residents harder than their urban cousins, researchers say.
Investigators found that from 2004 to 2013, rural communities experienced a nearly 80 percent higher rise in infant opioid withdrawal rates, relative to cities.
“The magnitude of the difference between rural and urban areas was not expected,” said study lead author Dr. Nicole Villapiano of the University of Michigan. She is with its Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
This class of drugs, which also includes morphine and fentanyl, is highly addictive. And addiction risk can extend to an unborn child if women take opioids while pregnant.
Infant opioid withdrawal — also called neonatal abstinence syndrome — can lead to low birth weight and a higher risk for seizures, alongside breathing, eating and sleeping problems the first few weeks of life.
Some studies suggest that affected children may develop attention-deficit problems down the road, although long-term risk remains unclear, Villapiano noted.
According to background notes with the study, the rate of maternal opioid use and infant withdrawal rose fivefold between 2000 and 2012.
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