COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The number of drug users in Ohio has increased sharply during the last several years.
This means the number of babies born to actively using drug-addicted mothers is also on the rise. Nationwide Children’s Hospital Neonatology Expert Dr. Kris Reber says, “A five-time increase at least with the number of babies with withdrawal symptoms over the last five to ten years.”
Babies just days old present a number of symptoms requiring around the clock care in neonatal intensive care units. These young patients present a wide range of symptoms. Dr. Reber explains, “Babies that do have withdrawal symptoms can have a lot of irritability. They can have tremors. Some of the worst cases can have seizures.” Drug exposure can also inhibit a baby’s growth and lead to feeding problems, according to Dr. Reber.
Half of babies with withdrawal symptoms must be given small doses of medication to wean them off the drugs. Others with less severe withdrawal just require therapy. That care includes, “A lot of cuddling, quiet time, holding, breastfeeding. These are all things we know can prevent babies from having withdrawal when they are no longer being exposed to the opiate.”
Doctors help thousands of babies recover from withdrawal symptoms each year. Long-term health complications can continue as a child grows, “We know these children will probably have some problem as they grow older. We need to be more aware of what those problems are and how to help them.” Those health impacts and any predispositions these children face is still largely a mystery. Dr. Reber says, “What we don’t understand is how long these kids will have the effect from the opiate exposure. That is why it is important that we do follow these babies after discharge.”
No national health database currently tracks the health outcomes for babies exposed to illegal drugs while in the womb. Dr. Reber explains, “We used to just follow kids up to one year of age and now we are trying to follow them longer, through school age, and try to find out what needs they do have as they get older.” She hopes to incorporate this newer data into a larger database where clear trends emerge. Only then can the community understand the true health implications the youngest and most innocent victims caught in Ohio’s drug crisis face.