Babies Born Addicted to Drugs

Every 25 minutes, a baby is born in this country addicted to illegal or prescription drugs []. That is the equivalent of more than 20,000 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) each year or an average of 6.8 infants out of every 1000 births.

Pierce County NAS cases are higher than the national average – but close to the Washington state average which was .98% in 2019 or 9.8 infants out of every 1000 births.  In Pierce County the average is approximately .91% of innocent infants start their lives suffering NAS [Washington State Health Department].

What is neonatal abstinence syndrome?

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) refers to cases in which newborns experience drug withdrawal shortly after birth due to drug exposure in utero.  Today, one of the most common causes of NAS is maternal use or abuse of opioids during pregnancy. In the case of opioids, NAS can result from the use of prescription drugs as legitimately prescribed, from the abuse of prescription drugs, or from the use of illegal opioids like heroin.

March of Dimes

The withdrawal process for these infants can be severe and last for weeks in neonatal intensive care. Suppose they are addicted to opioids, which continues to be a severe problem in Pierce County. In that case, these tiny, fragile babes may be treated with repeated doses of Methadone or morphine to wean them from their dependence. All the while, their first days out of the womb are consumed with adult-sized withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal often includes inconsolable crying, seizures, tremors, fever, difficulty eating, excessive weight loss, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing.

There is no guarantee the aftereffects of being born addicted will not affect them for years. They may suffer for years and have an increased risk for emotional, behavioral, and developmental problems.

“It’s not as simple as just helping these babies survive. To address the issue of NAS, we need to have multi sector coordination to help mothers before and during and after pregnancy.”

NICHQ Chief Science Officer Joann Petrini, Ph.D., MPH

New Phoebe House Tackles the Issue Locally

New Phoebe House was established twenty years ago to help addicted mothers during and after pregnancy. When you consider the high level of opioid addiction, the lifelong problems inflicted upon newborns with addicted mothers, and the fact that the fastest-growing homeless population in Pierce County is young mothers with children, the need for all-encompassing services is evident. 

New Phoebe House surrounds mothers and children with support and services to mitigate the negative impacts of trauma. Case managers help them identify their needs and set up a plan to meet those needs in a healthy, sustainable way that changes their condition and breaks cycles of harm. As we look to our 20th Anniversary this year, New Phoebe House remains committed to the residents and their determination to find a more positive road ahead for themselves and their children.


Make a Donation

Your support helps mothers recover from life’s challenges and build new lives together with their children.

Get Help

Are you experiencing homelessness, chemical dependence, and have children? You may qualify.

Annual Swimraiser on July 21st: