The number of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, in the latest symptom of the opioid epidemic ravaging the United States, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 1999, 1.5 out of every 1,000 babies born in hospitals were delivered by moms addicted to opioids at the time. As of 2014, that number had skyrocketed to 6.5 out of every 1,000. That’s a 333 percent increase.
Still, that number varied widely across the 30 states and Washington, D.C. that researchers studied. Both Vermont and West Virginia, which have experienced significant rises in opioid-related deaths in recent years, saw more than 30 deliveries per every 1,000 born to opioid-addicted mothers in 2014; D.C., on the other hand, had .7 babies per 1,000 babies.
All states included in the data, however, saw their rates of women who give birth while addicted to opioids increase.
Babies born opioid-addicted mothers can go through what’s called neonatal abstinence syndrome, meaning that they go into withdrawal from opioids. Like adults, they can experience congestion, diarrhea, fevers, seizures, sweating, tremors, and vomiting, among other symptoms. It’s unlikely that a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome would die in a hospital setting, but it does happen.
There’s little conclusive research available on what happens to babies exposed to opioids while in utero, but some data suggest that such kids may eventually have limited social engagement, cognitive abilities, and motor skills.
Only a handful of programs in the United States are designed to help, instead of punish, pregnant women or mothers addicted to opioids. The University of Kentucky’s PATHways, for example, tries to both treat women with addictions as well as use novel treatments to help any babies who may be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, as VICE News’ Keegan Hamilton reported last September.
READ: A nation in recovery
Cover image: A week old baby lies in one of the ICU bays at one of the Norton Children's Hospital neonatal intensive care units Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. This particular NICU is dedicated to newborns of opioid addicted mothers, that are suffering with newborn abstinence syndrome. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)