The United States’ opioid epidemic continues to spiral out of control. So much so, that drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death of Americans under 50. There doesn’t seem to be a single area of human life that the crisis hasn’t touched. And recent data shows that the drug crisis is impacting the youngest Americans, causing a huge spike in babies born addicted to drugs.
Dramatic Uptick in Babies Born Addicted To Drugs
New data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) paints a bleak picture for newborns in the United States.
According to the CDC’s data, the number of babies born addicted to drugs has quadrupled nationwide from 2000 to 2016. And in Florida, one of the states hardest hit by the drug crisis, the situation is even worse.
Florida has seen a tenfold increase in the number of babies born with drug addiction in as many years. In 2006, 438 newborns were diagnosed with neonatal drug withdrawal syndrome. In 2016, that number spiked to 4,215.
“It’s a national epidemic and Florida has been hit hard,” said Dr. Cherie Foster, a neonatologist and the medical director for the NICU at St. Joseph Women’s Hospital in Tampa. “They are irritable, feed poorly, high pitch cry. They are very sick.”
Babies Born Addicted To Drugs: Searching for a Solution
While some are ready to chalk up the uptick in babies born addicted to drugs to improved reporting, most acknowledge the data as a symptom of the national opioid epidemic.
And officials are struggling to come up with viable solutions. Increasing early prevention programs and educating health care providers are welcome initiatives.
But in Florida, for example, such programs appear dead in the water. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) opened the state’s first unit for drug-dependent newborns in 2008. Today, however, the program is defunct, according to THV11.
At a recent news conference, Gov. Rick Scott announced a $50 million plan to combat the opioid epidemic in Florida.
“The best solution is to stop the addiction,” said Scott, in response to questions about drug-addicted babies.
In contrast, Tennessee is taking a different approach.
District Attorneys there are filing lawsuits against opioid manufacturers. And they’re doing so specifically on behalf of Tennessee babies born addicted to drugs.
Slapping opioid manufacturers and profiteers with lawsuits, however, is unlikely to halt the widespread use of prescription painkillers.
According to a new investigation by Esquire reporter Christopher Glazek, the secretive Sackler family, owners of the company that invented OxyContin, downplayed the risks of addiction and exploited doctors’ confusion over the strength of the drug.
Babies Born Addicted To Drugs Aren’t Addicted To Cannabis
Ongoing research into the medical and therapeutic benefits of cannabis continues to identify it as an effective and safe substance for treating chronic pain.
So if the aim is to treat addiction, legalizing and educating doctors about medical cannabis for pain is a great place to start.
Interestingly, statistics show that marijuana is the illicit drug pregnant women most commonly use. But research suggests that such use does not cause clinically important neonatal withdrawal signs.
Using cannabis while pregnant can definitely cause “subtle and enduring neurofunctional changes.” But cannabis use during pregnancy does not lead to newborn babies with weed addictions.
Rather, it’s the use of other legal and illicit substances which pose the biggest risks to newborns. Instead, substances like alcohol, nicotine, methamphetamine, heroin and prescription opioids are devastating newborns across the country.
Again, this is not to turn cannabis into a medical panacea. But the fact remains that using medical cannabis to treat pain and ween people off of an addiction to other drugs is highly effective.
Therefore, medical cannabis legalization should be part of any serious conversation about reducing the number of babies born addicted to drugs.