Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a condition in newborns caused by prenatal drug exposure, causes the infant extreme discomfort as it goes through withdrawal during its first half-year of life. The condition has no long term side effects, but failures by doctors to inform child protection workers of the child’s condition mean that many newborns are dying outside of hospitals as the result of negligence by their own caretakers. Since 2010, Reuters has identified 110 such deaths: 40 suffocated, 13 were poisoned by opioids, and one devastating incident saw an infant die after accidentally being run through a washing machine.
Seeking to prevent these kinds of deaths, Congress passed The Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, requiring states to ensure doctors informed child protection workers of newborns suffering from conditions caused by prenatal drug exposure. In 2003, the year of the law’s passage, 5,000 drug-dependent babies were born in the US. But the problem has ballooned since then, with 2013 seeing more than 27,000 cases. Only nine states presently conform with the law, and no state has ever lost funding for noncompliance. Many states don’t require drug-dependent newborns to be referred if the mother was taking methadone, painkillers or other narcotics prescribed by a doctor — an exception aimed at preventing stigmatization of mothers seeking treatment for drug abuse. But postpartum depression and the difficulties of caring for a child suffering from NAS create prime conditions for relapse in mothers recovering from drug-addiction, and the drugs used to treat addiction have their own dangers: in at least 39 of the 110 deaths, the mother was taking methadone or another prescribed drug.
Read the full story at Reuters.