Babies with NAS Take Longer to Recover from Opioid Dependence as Outpatients

Babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, are usually treated at a neonatal intensive care unit in the hospital, or allowed to go home with their parents as they recover from opioid dependence with outpatient treatment. But a new study reveals that babies with NAS treated as outpatients take longer to recover from opioid dependence than their inpatient counterparts, and may experience a higher number of recovery setbacks. These new findings were published in the latest issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

Comparing Recovery Rates for Babies with NAS

babies with NAS

Researchers from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center set out to examine how outpatient treatment for babies with NAS affects length of stay and treatment compared to counterparts who receive inpatient care. They learned that babies with NAS who receive outpatient care take about three times longer to recover from opioid dependence than babies receiving inpatient care, and tend to have a higher number of repeat visits to the emergency room within six months after being discharged from the hospital.

Of the 736 babies born with NAS that were examined for this study, about 72% were treated using medications. Nearly half of those babies were discharged and sent home with outpatient medications such as phenobarbital. Babies who were sent home with medications only stayed in the hospital for 11 days, while inpatients stayed in the hospital for 23 days. However, babies who received outpatient treatment were on their medication for roughly 60 days, while babies who received inpatient treatment only took the medication for 19 days.

In the U.S., one baby is born with NAS every 15 minutes. Hospital costs for NAS equate to more than $500 million every year, which is why researchers are searching for more cost-effective solutions that can help babies recover from NAS. Unfortunately, while outpatient care for babies with NAS may be less costly than inpatient care, outcomes reveal that inpatient care may be safer and more effective than outpatient care.

Why Inpatient Care is Important for Babies with NAS

Babies born with NAS struggle with many of the same opioid withdrawal symptoms as adults who abruptly stop using opioids. However, babies are significantly more vulnerable and face a higher risk for serious complications. Babies who recover from NAS with inpatient treatment can benefit from 24/7 medical care and supervision and pharmacotherapy to reduce symptoms.

NAS symptoms usually begin within one and three days after birth, but may take up to one week to set in. Babies with NAS are often extremely irritable, have difficulty with feeding, and are more likely to have low birth weight. Other common symptoms of NAS include fever, diarrhea, trembling, vomiting, sleep problems, and seizures.

Infants with NAS usually receive methadone or morphine to reduce symptoms, since some symptoms can lead to complications or death. Supplying these babies with these medications allows them to slowly and gradually withdraw from opioids while facing a lower risk. Inpatient treatment allows babies to recover fully from opioid dependence within a shorter amount of time, and reduces the risk for future complications and hospital visits.

Getting Help for Opioid Addiction as a Pregnant Woman

If you are pregnant and addicted to opioids, the best thing you can do for you and your baby is get help at an addiction treatment center that offers specialized care for pregnant women. Pregnant women require prenatal care during drug detox, and should only use medications and therapies that are safe and pose few risks for unborn babies. A drug detox center can help you safely overcome opioid dependence while pregnant, and can connect your infant with specialized intensive care in the event they are born with NAS.

Ready to begin your recovery journey? Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to learn about available treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction.

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