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OxyContin Infant Withdrawal


Between 2000 and 2009, the number of infants born with neonatal opiate withdrawal syndrome has tripled. Every year, more than 13,000 babies are born addicted to opiates such as OxyContin (oxycodone). Many of them suffer devastating long-term complications, including birth defects. The increase has paralleled a surge in prescription painkiller use among pregnant women.

FDA Adds Boxed Warning for OxyContin and Infant Withdrawal Syndrome

September 2013 — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required all long-acting opioid painkillers, including OxyContin, to carry a Boxed Warning about the risk of neonatal opiate withdrawal syndrome when the drugs are used during pregnancy. Click here to read more.

According to the FDA Safety Communication:

“Chronic maternal use of these products during pregnancy can result in neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS), which may be life-threatening and require management according to protocols developed by neonatology experts. NOWS can occur in a newborn exposed to opioid drugs while in the mother’s womb.”

Infant Opiate Withdrawal Triples in a Decade

May 2012 — Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study linking popular painkillers, including OxyContin, to a tripled increase in the number of babies born with opiate withdrawal — from 1.2 babies per 1,000 birth in the year 2000, to 3.4 babies per 1,000 birth in 2009. Of these babies, 31% had respiratory problems and 19% had low birth weight.

OxyContin and Neonatal Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome

Fetuses exposed to OxyContin in the womb can develop a life-threatening condition called Neonatal Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS) or “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome” (NAS). They are born addicted to the drug and must stay in the hospital for a minimum of 5-7 days for observation and treatment.

One of the first studies linking OxyContin and infant withdrawal was published in Nature in 2002. Researchers warned that OxyContin can pass through the placenta to a developing baby, through breast-milk, and it has been detected in the urine of newborns exposed in utero.

Complications of Infant OxyContin Withdrawal

The most serious long-term complications of OxyContin withdrawal can lead to long-term disabilities or death. Potential complications include:

  • Birth defects
  • Seizures
  • Spontaneous abortion or miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Placental abruption (detachment of placenta from uterus)
  • Low birth weight
  • Dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea
  • Small head circumference
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Learning delays or disabilities
  • Behavior disorders
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Symptoms of Infant OxyContin Withdrawal

Symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal in an infant may not appear for 5-10 days, although most babies are discharged from a hospital if symptoms do not appear after 3 days. When symptom appear, they may persist for weeks. These symptoms can include:

  • Irritability
  • Rapid, shallow breathing (respiratory distress)
  • Asphyxia (low oxygen, high carbon dioxide in the blood)
  • Muscle tension (hypertonicity)
  • Poor feeding and lack of appetite (anorexia)
  • Tremors
  • High-pitched, shrill crying that is excessive
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • And more

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