The Smallest Victims of Today’s Opioid Crisis

Every day, there is news about the opioid addiction crisis sweeping our nation. The problem has infiltrated just about every demographic – from pop stars and soccer moms to teenagers. Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit sees the tiniest victims of this heartbreaking epidemic first hand in our Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) Program.

According to recent research, it is estimated that one baby is born every hour in the United States addicted to opiate drugs such as heroin, codeine, oxycodone and methadone. These substances pass through the placenta, leaving the baby just as addicted as the mother. The birthing process brings an abrupt cessation of the opioid that throws the baby into withdrawal.

Going through withdrawal is excruciating, and addicted babies cry for hours on end due to pain and discomfort as their bodies adjust. They are often fussy and hard to calm.

The first step in caring for these infants is to get withdrawal symptoms under control. Good Shepherd’s NAS team focuses on non-pharmacological measures such as therapy in a quiet, dark area and controlled sensory stimulation. These interventions improve auto regulation and baby sleep wake cycles.  Consistent feeding times and lots of quiet human contact help to ease the difficult transition as the baby’s body adjusts to the absence of illicit substances.

Babies exhibiting severe symptoms may need pharmacological intervention to ease the pain and discomfort of NAS. Some require hospitalization for weeks or months after birth. Many of these hospital intensive care units and nurseries can be over stimulating while in withdrawal. NAS babies benefit greatly from a rehab environment like Good Shepherd. Constant observation and evaluation using a specialized scoring system is used to determine the child’s changing needs.

The problems associated with NAS can continue after discharge, as some of these children face long-term feeding, developmental and learning difficulties. They also are at high risk for child abuse, because they have difficulty self-settling in what is often a challenged family/home situation.

Good Shepherd’s Pediatric Neonatal Abstinence Program consists of specially trained clinicians including doctors, pediatric specialized nurses, therapists, case managers and behavioral health counselors who are equipped not only to support the needs of these babies but their families as well. In addition to alleviating symptoms of withdrawal, our goals are to:

  • Ensure optimum nutrition
  • Maintain a developmentally supportive environment
  • Facilitate positive caregiver-infant interaction and bonding
  • Provide ongoing parental education and follow-up therapy

From a care standpoint, this is some of the most difficult but rewarding work in the health care field. It is not our job to judge, but to provide unconditional support, education and care to ensure the physical and emotional health of everyone involved.

To learn more about the Neonatal Abstinence Program at Good Shepherd, call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422) or contact us online.

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