How Opioid Addiction Impacts Infants In Utero

Mar 29, 2016


Neonatal unit at PinnacleHealth Harrisburg Hospital.
Credit Ben Allen / WITF

The opioid addiction crisis in Pennsylvania isn't just impacting adults, it's taking a toll on babies in the wombs of mothers who use prescription pain killers, heroin or Fentanyl.

WITF reporter Ben Allen recently reported on the issue for NPR and he spoke with WESA's Larkin Page-Jacobs about what he learned while working on the story. Allen said he visited a hospital in Harrisburg where they treat infants born addicted to opioids.

“These babies are actually held in a neo-natal intensive care unit,” he said. “And there’s a couple different unique things for the care of a baby that has neo-natal abstinence syndrome, or again, is addicted or born dependent on opioids. They’re usually kept in a smaller, quiet room. If they can be kept separate from the rest of the babies in the NICU, is best because research has shown that when these babies have their immune systems or nervous systems stimulated, that can actually make it more difficult for them to recover.” 

Allen said more drugs are used to help wean the babies off of opioid dependency, such as Morphine. But he said simple things done for any baby, such as holding or touching them, can be even more important for a baby coming off of opioids.

“There’s a lot of rocking that goes along with these children,” he said. “Nurses are often seen walking around the NICU rocking this baby back and forth, or cradling it. They just demand a lot of attention.”

He said an opioid-addicted baby can often stay in the hospital for two to four weeks after birth. 

Healthcare coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.