A new study published today by the scientific journal Addiction reveals that the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome — often caused by mothers using opioids during pregnancy — is increasing in the United States, and carries an enormous burden in terms of hospital days and costs. The number of US hospital admissions involving neonatal abstinence syndrome increased more than fourfold between the years 2003 and 2012. In 2012, neonatal abstinence syndrome cost nearly $316 million in the United States.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a constellation of symptoms that occur in newborn infants exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs in utero. Infants affected by NAS typically show a number of neurological symptoms and behaviors (e.g., tremors, seizures) as well as poor feeding and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Standard management of NAS involves the administration of opioids for opioid withdrawal, with additional medications for stubborn cases or instances of multi-drug exposure. This drug administration has been performed traditionally in the hospital setting, consuming valuable and finite hospital resources.