Painkiller Addiction in Newborns a Growing Problem

Painkiller addiction and abuse is a problem that seems to be majorly on the upswing in America, with a growing number of Americans affected by dependency on medications used to treat and manage chronic pain and anxiety.

Painkiller addiction is also often seen as more of a well-to-do vice, associated with people who have time on their hands to obtain the medications and the money to afford access to a doctor with a loose prescription pad. But a new study reveals that it is not just adults suffering from the dangerous effects of painkiller addictions- the number of babies born addicted to painkillers is also on the rise.

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published the study, detailing the relatively large number of infants affected by painkiller addiction in their mothers. The University of Michigan’s Dr. Stephen Patrick led the research, and he says the situation is “really a public health emergency.”

According to the study, 13,500 babies each year are born with an addiction to painkillers- which sounds like a lot. But TIME also spoke to psychology professor at Columbia Carl Hart, who says that presented alone, the numbers may not mean much:

“This study raises more questions than it answered… For one, it failed to take into account that there are many women who are prescribed opioids for medical reasons and these women are following their physicians’ orders and behaving in the way that society wants them to behave. There’s no distinction made between these women and those who are using opioids illicitly.”

As a for instance, the piece cites a growing dependence on painkillers in the general population due not necessarily to recreational use, but rather a larger understanding of chronic pain conditions that legitimately require strong painkillers. And while painkiller addiction is clearly becoming more common, no long-term problems are definitively linked to painkiller addiction in newborns.