Report: More newborns harmed by heroin, painkillers

A new study from the Alaska section of epidemiology indicates the number of newborn babies suffering from drug withdrawal is on the rise, particularly in Anchorage and Southeast Alaska.

According to a report published Monday in the state’s epidemiology bulletin, the number of infants suffering from “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome” in Alaska rose from six in 2005 to 41 in 2015.

That rate of increase was much higher than the rise in the number of overall births during the same period, indicating that more pregnant women are using heroin or prescription painkillers.

The problem may be worse than the figures indicate: Since 2012, only figures for Medicaid-eligible newborns were available. From 2004 to 2015, only 52 percent of all newborns were eligible for Medicaid.

A more complete dataset that ends in 2012 charted a rise from eight cases in 2001 to 56 cases in 2012.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome can lead to extended hospital stays for newborns, the study indicates. Affected newborns needed to stay in the hospital an average of 16 days, and one affected baby needed to stay in a hospital for more than four months.

To read the full epidemiology bulletin, visit http://www.epi.alaska.gov/bulletins/docs/b2016_05.pdf

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