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Legal prescription drugs abuse and addiction is a rising problem in the United States. Deaths caused by prescription drug overdoses are now greater than those caused by heroin and cocaine combined. And, in the case of pregnant women, newborns are paying the price. Much like the “crack-baby” epidemic of the 1980’s, the last decade has seen an alarming increase in the number of prescription drug addicted babies.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports some shocking statistics about prescription drug abuse in the U.S. The study estimates that the number of drug addicted babies born in the U.S. has tripled in the last 10 years. One baby is born addicted every hour. Officials are calling prescription drug abuse the fastest growing drug problem in the United States.

Most of the babies are born addicted to prescription painkillers such as Opana, Roxicodone, and Vicoden. Prescription drug addiction in newborns is very dangerous, even life-threatening. Drug addicted babies usually must stay in the hospital to be weaned off the drugs. Often, drug addicted babies are given narcotics, such as methadone, to manage withdrawal symptoms, and the risk of overdose is high. Prescription drug addicted babies may cry excessively and have stiff limbs, tremors, diarrhea and other problems that make their first days of life excruciating. In addition, prescription drug addicted babies are prone to problems like stunted growth, birth defects, and seizures.

The growing number of prescription drug addicted babies also has a heavy economic cost. Most drug addicted babies are covered by Medicaid. In 2009, care for these babies cost over 720 million dollars.

One of the problems with this growing trend is that women who are addicted to prescription drugs often don’t know they are pregnant right away. After the fetus has become dependent on prescription drugs, trying to quit while pregnant can cause a miscarriage. For this reason, many women wait until after they have delivered to get off prescription drugs.

Sometimes women who take prescription drugs for chronic pain conditions do not understand the risk of taking these medications while pregnant. They assume that because they have been prescribed by a doctor, they will be safe. Many women who take daily prescription painkillers aren’t offered any alternative treatment for their pain while pregnant.

A lot of of the women who have prescription drug addicted babies became addicted to opiates before pregnancy and are simply unable to stop. Often, they don’t have the resources to seek addiction treatment. Most experts agree that we need a better way to screen for addicted mothers and funding to get them the help they need.  Alternatively, because many of the mothers are young, inexperienced women in their teens and early twenties, they may be reluctant to seek treatment for their addiction out of fear the authorities will take their babies away.

Prescription drug addicted babies are just one of the casualties of the prescription drug addiction epidemic in the United States. In some areas of the country, like Florida-widely considered the epicenter of the prescription drug addiction epidemic, death from prescription drug overdose has become more prevalent than death from car accidents. About 12 million Americans—about 1 in 20 teenagers and adults—use prescription painkillers in a way that’s not prescribed.

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