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New York Senator Charles Schumer has proposed steps the federal government should take to tackle the increasing problem of opioid exposure in newborns.

Schumer called on the Food and Drug Administration to provide clear labels so women and doctors know the potential dangers of the medication they are taking. He said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration must educate doctors to better identify symptoms of prescription drug abuse, and the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention need to conduct more research that will help mothers avoid addiction.

At a news conference this week, Schumer pointed to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that 3.4 of every 1,000 infants born in 2009 in the United States—one infant every hour—suffered from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a drug withdrawal syndrome in newborns, most commonly associated with a mother’s opioid use during pregnancy. That rate increased from 1.2 per 1,000 births in 2000, the Buffalo News reports.

The study found the number of pregnant women addicted to prescription painkillers rose fivefold during the same period.

Illicit drug use during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of low birthweight and death, the study notes. NAS signs and symptoms include increased irritability, tremors, trouble feeding, seizures and breathing problems.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidelines for doctors and hospitals on how they can identify and monitor infants exposed to opioids and other drugs of addiction.

The report notes while some infants exposed to drugs do not need treatment, others require comfort measures such as minimizing their exposure to light and sound, and swaddling and rocking. Some babies may need medication to counteract the effects of the drugs they are withdrawing from.


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