Big data used to help drug-dependent newborns

Baylor researcher leads national team studying changing demographics, hospital management of babies born addicted to opioids
By Bernie Monegain
08:12 AM

An increasing number of babies across the country are born addicted to opioids and require intensive care, according to a study analyzing MEDNAX Clinical Data Warehouse statistics from 299 neonatal intensive care units across the country.

The study results are reported in a paper authored by a Baylor researcher and published online April 26 by the New England Journal of Medicine. The illness, called “neonatal abstinence syndrome," NAS, is a drug withdrawal syndrome that most commonly occurs after in-utero exposure to opioids. It can lead to seizures, difficulty feeding, respiratory complications and low-birth-weight in affected infants.

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The study titled “Increasing Incidence of the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in U.S. Neonatal ICUs,” directly addresses the ICU care of these infants and found that NAS is responsible for a substantial and growing portion of resources dedicated to critically ill neonates in NICUs nationwide.

Veeral N. Tolia, MD, a neonatologist on staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, led a team of researchers from U.S. hospitals that determined that between 2004 and 2013 the rate of NICU admissions nationwide for NAS increased almost fourfold, from seven to 27 cases per thousand infants. The research also found that the length of hospitalization increased by more than 40 percent from 13 to 19 days. The total percentage of NICU days attributed to NAS increased by more than 500 percent, with eight centers reporting one in five of all NICU days devoted to their care in 2013.

Medication is  problematic because of the scarce research about the best way to care for the infants. None of the commonly used medications are FDA approved for treating NAS and there is substantial variability in how these infants are treated.

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