Rising number of drug-addicted newborns takes toll on hospitals

The opioid drug epidemic has created a lot more drug-dependent newborns and hospitals often have to foot the bill for their treatment, the Boston Herald has reported.

The cost of treating these newborns is $1.5 billion per year, based on billing data in 44 states compiled by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, according to the publication. That's about double the $732 million annual tab reported between 2000 and 2009. Although Medicare covers much of the cost, hospitals often lose money treating such patients.

In Rhode Island, a neighbor of Massachusetts, the number of babies being born with what is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome--essentially drug addicition and withdrawal--has doubled between 2006 and 2013, according to the Brown (University) Daily Herald. Such newborns require intense supervision because of their risk of seizures due to dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea.

Adults with opiod addiciton issues also bombard hospitals. A study published last year revealed that 100,000 opioid overdose patients flooded hospital emergency rooms in 2010 and cost the hospitals more than $2 billion annually to treat. The Brown Daily Herald reported that the surge is linked to an increase in more adults using and becoming addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. The issue has also created a dilemma for hospitals and ER physicians regarding whether they should prescribe such medications to patients who seek care for their injuries. And the Joint Commission has also suggested that hospials closely mointor inpatients for the use of opioids due to safety issues.

To that end, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., has introduced a bill in Congress that would provide additional aid for hospitals that care for newborns exposed to opiates during their gestation, according to the Boston Herald.

To learn more:
- read the Boston Herald article 
- check out the Brown Daily Herald article