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Help Reduce the Number of Drug-Dependent Newborns in Tennessee

A drug-dependent newborn is a newborn who was exposed to certain types of drugs in utero. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a painful condition in which a newborn has withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to certain prescription medications, such as painkillers and anxiety medications, or illegal drugs the mother used during pregnancy. In 2013, almost 1,000 Tennessee newborns were diagnosed with NAS. Infants with NAS stay in the hospital longer than other babies, and they may have serious medical and social problems. NAS is also expensive for the state. A baby born with NAS on TennCare costs the state nearly six times more than the average cost per birth for a baby on TennCare. 

  • If the mother takes narcotics while pregnant, the drugs are passed on to the unborn baby and can cause the baby to be born dependent on addictive drugs.
  • These narcotics can be:
    • Prescription drugs taken as prescribed
    • Illicit drugs such as heroin
    • Prescription drugs taken by someone other than the person to whom they were prescribed and/or taken in a manner inconsistent with the prescription 
  •  When the baby is born, he or she can experience painful withdrawal symptoms including vomiting, excessive sweating, high-pitched crying, tremors, seizures, diarrhea, fever and sleeping problems. These withdrawal symptoms can lead to other health risks for the baby.

How to Prevent NAS
NAS is entirely preventable.  Here are some ways that you can prevent NAS:

  • Don’t take illegal drugs, and take medications only as directed. Never share and never take someone else’s medication. 
  • If you have a health problem, talk to your doctor about drugs to take that are safe, since most drugs you take can be passed from you to your baby. 
  • Be aware of the risks involved when taking prescription pain and anxiety medication. You can become addicted, and if you become pregnant, your baby can be born dependent as well. Ask your doctor if there are other less risky medicines or alternative therapy options (such as physical therapy, counseling, exercise or chiropractic care) that would work for your health problem.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether you should be on birth control. Half of all pregnancies are unintended. Don’t be one of them—especially if you are taking narcotics or another addictive substance. 

Examples of drugs taken during pregnancy that can cause withdrawal symptoms in newborns: 

  • Pain and Drug Treatment Medications:
    • Methadone, morphine, fentanyl (Sublimaze), oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicet), hydrocodone (Lortab), oxymorphone (Opana), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), codeine, buprenorphine (Subutex), buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone)
  • Anxiety Medications:
    • Alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide, clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Illegal Drugs:
    • Heroin

If you are taking any of the drugs listed above, it is important you speak with your healthcare provider before making any changes. Encourage people you know to learn about NAS and how to prevent it.    

Learn More

Find out more about NAS here

To learn more about state resources on NAS, click here