A new study finds an opioid epidemic sweeping through rural America over the last decade, with the number of delivering opiate-dependent women exploding in recent years. This leads to a dramatic increase of newborns with a drug dependence which they inherited from their addict mothers.
Dr. Sean Loudin, medical director of a neonatal therapeutic unit at Cabell Huntington Hospital, has seen firsthand babies going through withdrawal — known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. “When they are born, because they’re no longer being exposed to an opiate, they’re going to go through withdrawal,” he said.
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Babies going through withdrawal suffer from seizures, fever and tremors, and have difficulty sleeping, are uncomfortable and irritable. “It is heartbreaking to watch these innocent newborns struggle,” nurses Gail Bagwell and Amy Thomas wrote in Stat Newsletter.
A study led by University of Michigan researchers found an even greater number of drug-dependent newborns in rural areas than in urban areas. Suffering newborns climbed six-fold in rural counties from 1.2 per 1,000 hospital births in 2004 to 7.5 per 1,000 in 2013. By comparison, urban areas only saw an increase from 1.4 births per 1,000 to 4.8 per 1,000.
“The most alarming thing to me was the growing disparity that we are seeing between rural and urban areas,” said study lead researcher Dr. Nicole Villapiano. “The magnitude of the difference between rural and urban areas was not expected. The diverging trend was the most striking thing we found.”
The study doesn’t pinpoint the root causes of the trend but suggested some contributing factors. “We know that patients in rural areas tend to be poorer, have higher rates of chronic diseases, are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol and suffer from drug addiction,” Villapino explained.
“What this trend tells us is the country faces an addiction crisis. Many Americans face hopelessness, despair, economic hardship and very little appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with that,” he went on. “That is a dramatic story, and it is scary to me and shows the unfortunate and desperate circumstances that many Americans face.”