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Rising number of rural American babies born with opioid withdrawal

A mother holds her infant son
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
A mother holds her infant son

The rates of babies in rural American areas born with symptoms of opioid withdrawal has skyrocketed, illustrating another symptom of the ongoing opioid epidemic spreading through parts of the United States.

Rural babies and mothers with opoid-related conditions are more likely than urban ones to come from lower-income families, and have public insurance, according to a new study published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Out of every 1,000 babies born in 2004, about 1.2 were born with opioid withdrawal, which, in babies, is called neonatal abstinence syndrome. By 2013, that number increased about to 7.5 per 1,000 hospital births among rural infants.

This far outpaces the jump in cases among urban babies, which were 1.4 per 1,000 urban babies in 2004 to and only 4.8 per 1,000 in 2013.

The number of hospital deliveries complicated by opioid use among rural mothers also jumped from 1.3 per 1,000 to 8.1 per 1,000.

"This geographic disparity highlights the urgent need for policymakers to appropriate funding for clinicians and programs that could improve access to opioid prevention and treatment services for rural women and children," the researchers wrote in their study.

Among the remedies they suggest include increasing access to drugs meant to manage opioid addiction, such as buprenorphine, and supporting programs that can target rural women and babies in areas with known opioid problems.

The team drew its data from the National Inpatient Sample, which tracks hospital discharges in the United States, and was compiled by the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The research team was comprised of members of several U.S. institutions, including University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; University of Minnesota School of Public Health; Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, Chicago, Illinois; Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Departments of Pediatrics and Health Policy, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.