Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms Increasing In Newborn Babies

About 20 per cent of babies born in Neonatal Intensive Care Units last year tested positive for having opioid withdrawal symptoms, according to Windsor Regional Hospital.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit looks after newborn babies who require additional medical care. 

Last week, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported the opioid-related death rate in the county to be more than double the provincial average in 2015.

The region has the seventh-highest rate of opioid use out of 49 counties in Ontario. 

Program Manager for the NICU at Windsor Regional Hospital, Heather Ryan, says more babies are being born with opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

She says an increased number of families are unable to look after their infants at the hospital.

To help look after the infants, the hospital is starting a cuddling program in their NICU.

The program has volunteers cuddle newborns in distress when their parents are not present.

Ryan says cuddle programs are becoming more common in hospitals. 

"We can say that the numbers are on the rise, much like other NICU's across the province," says Ryan. "Hence, why these cuddler programs are starting to be implemented." 

Ryan says babies who suffer from opioid withdrawal have a better chance of recovery if they are cuddled. 

"So the withdrawal symptoms from opioids are similar to what you would see in adults," she says. "There is a whole host of well-documented symptoms that go along with it and one of the recommended therapies for that is holding and offering comfort to the newborn." 

Ryan says not all babies who tested positive for opioid withdrawal had parents who abused the drug. 

"The one thing to note is that the opioid use is sometimes a prescribed or legitimate drug use if the mother has been, say, in a car accident or has a medical condition where the baby would still come out withdrawing and needs to be treated but it was a legitimate drug use," says Ryan.  

Prospective volunteers have to go through health screenings, a police background check, interviews, and a training session to be eligible for the program.