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Opioids: Affecting mothers and their unborn children

Over time, the United States' people have realized the impact that prescribing large amounts of opioids has had on the community. While opioids are needed for extreme pain, and sometimes for chronic pain, the reality is that they can be highly addictive.

Two groups who have suffered and who may have been overlooked are mothers and their children. According to experts, many women who struggled with opioid abuse also used other drugs, putting themselves and their children at risk.

How does opioid abuse affect pregnancy?

There are a few ways. Pregnant women who are addicted may struggle to find appropriate treatments and services. The problem of polysubstance abuse adds to the difficulty of these cases, since there are often unknown long-term consequences for infants in utero.

The so-called epicenter of the opioid crisis, West Virginia, has one of the highest overdose rates in the entire country. As a result, some of its hospitals have spent time developing separate neonatal intensive care units. These units are designed to help care for babies born in the throes of opioid withdrawal. West Virginia, in 2018, became the first state-approved center to provide care for these kinds of babies and their families.

How many babies are born addicted to opioids?

In 2017, it was reported that around 50.6 babies per 1,000 were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome in West Virginia. Some of the symptoms include dehydration, irritability and trembling. Nationally, the rate is 7 per 1,000 based on 2016 statistics.

West Virginia is not the only state suffering from the consequences of excessive opioid prescribing. In other states, like North Carolina and Tennessee, pregnant women were also seen seeking support at opioid addiction treatment centers. Surprisingly, these companies were less likely to accept the patient if they were pregnant.

South Carolina hasn't escaped opioids' reach. In 2017, there were 749 overdose deaths that were related to opioids. That's higher than the national average, which is 14.6 deaths per 100,000. Prescribers, in 2017, wrote 79.3 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. That's a shocking number, especially knowing what is known about opioids today.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a problem there, too. The rate has increased by double in South Carolina between 2009 and 2013, and it continues to grow.

All of this shows one thing. People, especially mothers, who are addicted to opioids need support. If you're arrested for opioid use, there can still be ways to help you overcome this struggle and help your child.

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