Number of Opiate-Addicted Newborns Triples
Prescription drug abuse by pregnant women rises sharply
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 1, 2012 4:12 AM CDT
Updated May 1, 2012 6:00 AM CDT
Babies suffering opiate withdrawal are inconsolable, and suffer multiple health problems in their first weeks of life, doctors say.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – The number of pregnant women abusing prescription drugs has soared, and babies addicted to opiates are now being born at the rate of one every hour in the US, a new study warns. Researchers found that the newborn addiction rate has tripled over the last decade, and the newborns spent an average of 16 days in the hospital being treated for opiate withdrawal, reports the New York Times. "The incidence has gone crazy, and I think it has the potential to become a national or international issue,” a clinical neuroscientist writes in an editorial accompanying the study. “People who previously might not have used heroin or the needle are more likely to use prescription opiates.”

A newborn suffering opiate withdrawal gives out "a very high-pitched, uncomfortable cry," a pediatrician in Kentucky who sees at least one or two cases every week tells CNN. "It's like the kid has been pinched." The long-term health implications of such a grim start in life are unclear, but the problem is straining health care programs, the study found. It costs an average of $53,400 to treat each of the 13,500 babies born addicted to opiates every year, and state Medicaid programs end up covering the cost nearly 80% of the time.