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Over the last decade, the number of infants born with neonatal opiate withdrawal syndrome (NOWS) has tripled. More than 13,000 infants are affected by opiate drug withdrawal every year, and many of them suffer devastating birth defects. The epidemic is mostly due to a surge in pregnant women using long-acting narcotic painkillers like OxyContin (oxycodone) to treat chronic pain.

FDA Adds Boxed Warning for OxyContin and Infant Withdrawal

In September 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added a Boxed Warning to all extended-release / long-acting (ER/LA) opioid painkillers to warn that using them during pregnancy can lead to life-threatening withdrawal in newborns. Click here to read more.

According to the FDA Safety Warning:

“Chronic maternal use of these products during pregnancy can result in neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS), which may be life-threatening and require management according to protocols developed by neonatology experts. NOWS can occur in a newborn exposed to opioid drugs while in the mother’s womb.”

Infant Opiate Withdrawal Triples in a Decade

In May 2012, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study finding a tripled increase in neonatal opiate withdrawal syndrome. From 2000 to 2009, it increased from 1.2 per 1,000 babies to 3.4 per 1,000 babies. Over 19% of newborns had low birth weight and 31% had respiratory complications.

OxyContin and Neonatal Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome

Neonatal Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS), also known as “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome” (NAS) is a withdrawal syndrome that occurs when an fetus is exposed to highly-addictive opiates in the womb.

In 2002, one of the first studies linking OxyContin and infant withdrawal was published in Nature. Researchers warned that OxyContin can pass through breast-milk and it has been found in urine of infants exposed to the drug in utero.

Complications of Infant OxyContin Withdrawal

Infant opiate withdrawal can lead to a number of serious health problems in children, including:

  • Birth defects
  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Placental abruption
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning disabilities
  • Long-term cognitive impairment
  • Behavior disorders
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Symptoms of OxyContin Withdrawal in Babies

Although symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal in newborns can appear immediately after birth, they can also be delayed for 5-10 days and may persist for weeks. Symptoms may include:

  • Premature birth
  • Irritability
  • Asphyxia
  • Muscle tension (hypertonicity)
  • Poor feeding
  • Lack of appetite (anorexia)
  • Respiratory distress
  • Trembling
  • Shrill crying that is high-pitched or excessive
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Smaller head circumference
  • And more