What is NAS?
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) refers to a condition in which newborns experience drug withdrawal shortly after birth due to drug exposure in utero. Today, one of the most common causes of NAS is maternal use or abuse of opioids during pregnancy. In the case of opioids, NAS can result from the use of legitimately prescribed drugs, the abuse of prescription drugs, or from the use of illegal opioids like heroin. Infants with NAS often show signs of distress including inconsolable crying, tremors, fever, vomiting, seizures, and trouble eating. Symptoms start to appear as soon as a few minutes to as late as two weeks after birth.
Punishment adds to the problem.
In some states, policymakers have proposed punitive measures for women whose infants experience NAS, which can deter them from seeking prenatal care. What’s more, is that pregnant women who are addicted to opioids often don’t seek prenatal care until it’s too late, because they’re afraid of being stigmatized and worry that their babies might be taken away.
In an interview with the L.A. Times, Dr. Laura Faherty, a pediatrician and health policy researcher said, “These punitive policies are pushing women into the shadows, it’s shaming them from getting prenatal care and the treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) that they need to keep themselves and their babies healthy.” She went on to say, “It would be unthinkable to punish women for having epilepsy or diabetes during pregnancy, but we treat SUD as a moral failing instead of the medical condition it really is.”[
Stop the stigma.
We need to stop stigmatizing addiction as a choice. The reality is that addiction is a chronic medical condition and if we keep criminalizing it, we’re only pushing the moms and their babies away from the healthcare system and the treatment programs that can help them. That’s not how we solve a problem, we solve it by taking action.
It’s time to take action.
Recently, Kipu joined forces with Hushabye Nursery of Phoenix, AZ. They are one of three facilities in the nation that provide care for opioid exposed newborns and, in their area, they have seen a 235% increase in infants with NAS. That’s in the Phoenix area alone.
Hushabye Nursery was founded by two neonatal nurse practitioners who saw a need for a sustainable model to assist infants recovering from NAS. Through their center, they provide a holistic approach to helping infants by treating mother and baby together for substance withdrawal, without an emotionally painful separation.
Hushabye treats the baby and the entire family with the hope of guiding the entire family to complete recovery. This is called taking action.
When we as a society start recognizing addiction as a disease and not a choice, and work towards recovery, we’ll be on the right side of history. Infants are the tiniest victims of the opioid epidemic, and they deserve better, their moms deserve better and we can all do better.