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Babies Are Suffering Opioid Withdrawals At Record Rates

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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The rate of babies being born with opioid withdrawals is rising at an alarming pace in Wisconsin, largely due to heroin abuse crippling the state.

The state Department of Health Services revealed the rate of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) more than quadrupled over the past decade. Wisconsin recorded 598 babies born with an opioid addiction in 2015, up from 142 cases in 2006. Ashland, Iron and Vilas counties have the highest rates of reported prenatal opioid addiction, but the problem exists throughout the state, reports Wisconsin State Journal.

Doctors are still unsure what the lifetime repercussions of NAS may be on the infants, but short-term symptoms include seizures, trouble feeding, excessive crying, diarrhea and rapid breathing.

“These are babies who can’t settle enough to sleep,” Dr. Elizabeth Goetz, medical director of the newborn nursery at UnityPoint Health-Meriter, told Wisconsin State Journal. “You put them down in the crib and they’re just wild. You pick them up and they’re stiff.”

Heroin overdoses killed 281 people in Wisconsin in 2015, accounting for more deaths than car accidents and tripling the number of fatalities attributed to heroin in 2010.

Nearly 9-in-1,000 babies born in the state will now suffer from NAS. The infants are usually held in treatment at a hospital for 16 days, where they may receive treatment with morphine to help with withdrawal symptoms. Missouri recently revealed similarly disturbing statistics.

At least eight-in-1,000 babies born will now suffer opioid withdrawals in the state, an increase of 538 percent since 2006. Officials in some states are moving to place greater limits on the number of opioids doctors are allowed to prescribe and a stricter system for tracking patients, in an effort to limit doctor shopping.

Health officials note the national increase in opioid abuse is also leading to a general increase in child neglect. In states hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis, social services are becoming overwhelmed by the need for child care.

Officials in Ohio say that opioids are the main driver of a 19 percent spike in the number of kids removed from parental custody for foster care since 2010.

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