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The truth – and stats – about infants and opioid dependence

One of the less-discussed aspects of the opioid crisis with which North Carolina is now struggling: its impact on infants and children.

A recent report from North Carolina Health News looks at the plight of children born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, experiencing withdrawal due to their mothers’ use of opioids like heroin, methadone or oxycontin during pregnancy.

The rate of babies experience NAS is up – a rise of more than 50 percent between 2004 and 2012, according to the North Carolina Pregnancy and Opioid Exposure Project. But the condition isn’t necessarily permanently harmful.

From the report:

“…while neonatal abstinence syndrome is often seen in infants who have been exposed prenatally to opioids, it is important to remember that it is an expected and treatable condition that has not been found to have any significant effect on cognitive development…”

That doesn’t mean the problem isn’t serious – and seriously costly. From the story:

Newborns with NAS have hospital stays that are eight times longer than for average newborns. In 2012, infants with NAS stayed an average of 16.9 days accumulating, on average, about $66,700 in hospital costs. Most babies without complications stay about two days, costing only about $3,500, NIDA reported.

All told in 2012, infants with NAS cost hospitals about $1.5 billion nationwide, 81 percent of that cost was borne by state Medicaid programs, NIDA calculated.

Read the whole thing here.

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