In what is an unsurprisingly but still unsettling news story, CNN wrote about a recent study by Australian researchers which found that children who are born addicted to drugs like heroin and other opiates are more likely to do poorly when they reach school age. Children who are born addicted to drugs suffer from withdrawal and have additional health problems shortly after being born. They also emit high-pitched and inconsolable screams until their symptoms abate, which can sometimes last weeks.
In light of the fact that the country is currently going through a major opiates epidemic, a recent study found that the rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS (when a newborn is going through withdrawals), has increased by five times since the beginning of the last decade.
The study looked at the reading and math test scores for children born between 2000 and 2006. The study compared over 2,200 children who were born with NAS with over 4,300 children who did not. These results were then compared to the test results of the nearly 600,000 children who reside in that area. The authors of the study found that those children who were born with NAS did progressively worse on their tests as they got older. By the time they reached the seventh grade, nearly 40 percent of the NAS children were unable to meet the minimum testing standards in at least one category.
The takeaway from this study is that children who are born addicted to opiates, along with their families, need to be recognized and supported early enough to minimize the possibility of the children doing poorly in school once they are of age. This also means that children must be supported even after they have successfully passed through the stages of withdrawal.
The authors did acknowledge the fact that additional influences like the child's home environment or his/her parents' educational level may also play a factor, however it is incredibly important to support the children from an early age regardless. And while everyone is currently feeling the pain of the opiates epidemic, no matter where they live, the effects of the crisis are worse on rural communities due to their already limited resources.
In order to help children as soon as is possible, it is important to be able to recognize the signs of addiction, just in case the pregnant mother does not realize the dangers she may be putting her baby in. Some of the symptoms associated with opiate addiction can include:
• Mood changes, like increased anxiety, depression, or psychosis
• Behavioral changes, like abandoning important activities or being unsuccessful in decreasing the amount of opiates that are being taken
• Physical symptoms, such as increased awareness, energy, alertness, and heart rate; decreased appetite; and difficulty sleeping.
Withdrawing from the drug can come with nasty symptoms as well, which is why it is doubly tragic when newborn babies have to suffer those effects. Some of the symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal can include:
• Stomach pain