Newborn opioid withdrawal rates show signs of stabilizing

May 13, 2020

Rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)—a withdrawal syndrome experienced by some opioid-exposed newborns after birth—have plateaued after 20 years of increasing frequency across the country, according to a new study published in Health Affairs, according to a news release from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

The National Institutes of Health-funded study led by Ashley Leech, PhD, assistant professor of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), finds that rates of NAS per 1,000 live births stabilized in 2016 after peaking in 2014 at the beginning of a surge in opioid-related deaths in the United States.

“Evidence is beginning to show that we’re holding down the rising trend in NAS,” Leech said. “While encouraging, rates are significantly higher than they were 20 years ago; we still have more work to do.”

From 2004 to 2014, the rate of NAS increased nearly six-fold from 1.6 infants per 1,000 births to 8.1 per 1,000 births by 2014. The rate was 8.8 per 1,000 births in 2016, showing evidence of stabilization.

In 2016, U.S. hospitals cared for an estimated 31,765 infants with NAS.

Geographically, the study found the lowest overall rates of NAS in the West and the highest overall rates in the Northeast. These results were consistent with previous research.

The study uses the most recent data on NAS available.

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