Sarnia has seen more than a 29% increase in the number of newborns hooked on painkillers amid the nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, resulting in longer hospital stays for the affected babies and higher public health care costs, according to statistics released by Bluewater Health.
Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem, as reported by Health Canada and some say it should be classified as and treated like an epidemic.
Dr. Nash Rashed, who is Bluewater Health's medical director of the maternal, infant, and child program, reportedly said that last year 40 babies born had neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), an addiction to drugs their mothers took while pregnant.
Doctors attribute this rise to the use and abuse of prescription opioids: the painkillers fuelling Canada’s fastest-growing addiction – and the methadone used to treat it.
Symptoms typically appear within four days after birth and can include excessive crying, sweating, tremors and diarrhea. Drug-exposed babies require intensive nursing care and can remain in the hospital for 21 days or more if they need treatment to wean them off narcotics.
Nation-wide last year, at least 1,057 babies were born with NAS, an 18-per-cent increase over the year before, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Sarnia's rise in these numbers is 11% higher than the reported national average.
Dr. Rashed was quoted saying that Sarnia’s nursery has three beds, but up to nine newborns have needed it at once and often staff has to be pulled from other places to meet the medical demand.
He reportedly added that some Sarnia mothers who gave birth prematurely elsewhere have been denied transfer to Bluewater Health because there’s no room for them.
Bluewater Health works with Sarnia’s methadone clinic, social services and the Children’s Aid Society.
The mothers of drug-exposed babies usually are referred to hospital social workers or county social service agencies for help finding treatment programs.
Sara Stelpstra, intake supervisor at the Sarnia-Lambton Children’s Aid Society, said that “We do try to offer assistance to these women prior to the birth of the baby, so by the time the baby is born there’s already a plan set in place."
Most experts agree that the impact of the drugs on a child’s development can be difficult to determine because of other risk factors such as nutrition and prenatal care. There has been little long-term research on children exposed to prescription painkillers. However, most children exposed to heroin, an opiate similar to OxyContin, eventually catch up to their peers.