Schumer: Epidemic of painkiller-addicted babies

Sen. Schumer is a co-sponsor of a new Sen. Schumer is a co-sponsor of a new bipartisan tax bill called the Start-up Innovation Credit Act of 2012 which would allow fledgling companies to better access research and development tax credits. (Jan. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Sen. Charles Schumer called on federal agencies Sunday to help stem an epidemic of babies being born addicted to painkillers.

Studies found that mothers taking prescription drugs during pregnancy may give birth to babies with an opioid dependency -- a condition that nationwide is estimated to affect one baby per hour, Schumer said.

"We must act now to reduce that alarming statistic and prevent this growing trend from spiraling out of control," said Schumer, (D-N.Y.).

He wants the Food and Drug Administration to issue clear warnings on drug labels and called on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a government agency, to educate doctors on the dangers of taking painkillers while pregnant.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association published in May showed that about 3.4 of every 1,000 infants born in 2009 suffered from addiction -- roughly one infant born with the condition every hour. New York hospitals have said they have seen an uptick in cases of babies born with prescription drug addictions, Schumer said.

"It's as if you're seeing an adult who's addicted to a narcotic," said Sean Bailey, director of New York University Medical School's pediatric residency program and a neonatal simulation training expert.

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The condition, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, kicks in shortly after birth, causing affected babies to enter opioid withdrawal. This brings pain, irritation, inability to sleep, gastric problems and other symptoms. In serious cases, it can affect cognitive development, prevent weight gain or induce seizures, according to Bailey and Dr. Iffath Hoskins, director of ob/gyn residency at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn.

While some NAS cases stem from prescription drug abuse by pregnant women, many others are unforeseen side effects of painkillers prescribed for legitimate ailments, the doctors said.

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