Opioid Crisis Hits Home In Arizona's Neonatal Units

Published: Friday, September 21, 2018 - 1:47pm
Updated: Friday, September 21, 2018 - 2:13pm
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As the opioid epidemic continues to grip our state and nation, there is another population that’s being negatively affected by this crisis — the babies born to addicted mothers.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the number of women with opioid use disorder who are showing up at labor and delivery units around the country has quadrupled from 1999 to 2014.

And that is having far-reaching effects — for those mothers and babies, as well as for our hospitals and our broader healthcare system.  

Dr. Luke Petersen is an addiction medicine physician at Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix — he also served on the committee that came up with the opioid prescribing guidelines put out by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

He said the biggest concern with opioids in pregnancy is that opioid withdrawal puts a lot of stress on the baby and can cause complications like preterm delivery or high blood pressure problems in pregnancy.

They always try to get a mother into treatment for her addiction before her baby is born, Dr. Petersen said, but when a mom comes into labor and delivery and she’s currently using substances, it changes their approach.

On the other end of the problem are, of course, the smallest victims of this crisis — the infants. Neonatal units around the country are seeing more and more infants born to opioid-addicted mothers with what’s called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

Dr. Nathan Lepp is a neonatalogist with MEDNAX who practices at the Maricopa Integrated Health System’s Maricopa Medical Center, where there are currently three babies who have NAS and were, for the first time that day, quiet.

So, where should these babies be? That’s a question Dr. Lepp and the nurses at the NICU tackle daily. The Show spoke with him about it, and he told us that a recent CDC report affirmed what he and other doctors who are on the ground have known for some time now — it’s there in numbers.

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