America’s opioid epidemic and the corresponding increase in the rate of overdose deaths among adults has received a lot of attention in the media lately, but the news often ignores the less obvious effects of the epidemic on “society’s most vulnerable members” – our children.
A new study has been published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics showing a rise in the number of infants born with opioid dependency, particularly in rural states.
From ABC News:
“Rates of infants dependent on opioids, identified as ‘neonatal abstinence syndrome,’ or NAS, rose dramatically between 2004 and 2013, most noticeably in rural areas, according to this study. …
“NAS occurs in newborns, who are exposed to opioids either in utero or shortly after birth. Symptoms are ‘manifested by central nervous system irritability, autonomic overreactivity, and gastrointestinal tract dysfunction,’ according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
The findings were based on hospital discharge data of 24,000 infants obtained from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services database. Researchers from several institutions analyzed the data and found that although the rates of NAS had risen in both urban and rural areas, the rise was far more pronounced in rural settings.
In rural areas, the rate of NAS rose from 1.2 cases per 1,000 births in 2004, to 7.5 cases per 1,000 births in 2013.
In urban areas, the rates were 1.4 NAS cases per 1,000 births in 2004 to 4.8 cases per 1,000 births in 2013 – a significantly slower increase than in rural areas.
These findings are consistent with other studies that have shown higher rates of opioid abuse in rural areas, said the study’s co-author, Dr. Stephen Patrick, of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
NAS an example of public health problems other than overdoses caused by opioid abuse
The study underscores the fact that the opioid epidemic has a wide range of effects on society beyond mere overdose statistics:
“NAS is another example of the how the opioid crisis is also causing other public health problems, including additional strains on foster care from children born to drug users, according to Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.”
The findings also call attention to the need for further investigation into why people living in rural areas are more susceptible to opioid abuse, so that effective strategies can be developed to combat the problem.
Many women may not be aware of the effects of opioid use on unborn children, according to Dr. Alexander, and others may not have access to treatment or know where to seek it.
“This one it is particularity heartbreaking because these newborns are society’s most vulnerable members,” he said.
Big Pharma largely responsible for opioid epidemic that killed more than 55,000 Americans in 2015
Much of the blame for America’s opioid crisis can be laid squarely on Big Pharma. Not only are half of opioid overdose deaths caused by prescription painkillers, but more than 75 percent of new heroin users first became addicted to prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin.
Opioid abuse rates in America began spiraling after Big Pharma introduced a number of powerful opioid painkillers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Aggressive marketing techniques and incentives for physicians to prescribe more of these deadly drugs directly contributed to the crisis we are experiencing today.
The number of heroin overdoses has now surpassed firearm homicides as a cause of death in the U.S., and the number of overdoses each year continues to rise – there were more than 55,000 overdose deaths in 2015.
If those who peddle lethal drugs can be considered murderers, then the Big Pharma executives who created the nation’s opioid epidemic should all be tried and imprisoned on charges of homicide – or at least wilful manslaughter.