The opioid epidemic is increasingly touching the tiniest of lives, according to new research, and doctors who treat those affected say the impact is heartbreaking.
More babies of mothers addicted to opioids are being born dependent on the drugs themselves, driven by a sharp surge in rural areas of the country. The newborns come into the world suffering from what medical experts call neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a term for the constellation of health problems a baby experiences as it’s withdrawing from exposure to narcotics inside its mother’s womb.
The only treatment for these newborns is often more drugs, but researchers in Massachusetts are testing a new alternative for this vulnerable population.
This seems like a regular hospital bed for newborns, but under the sheets doctors are testing a new treatment for the tiniest victims of the nation's drug crisis. It's a special mattress that vibrates.
Liz Salisbury: It's gentle. It's like sitting in a car going 60 miles an hour in your Cadillac.
Liz Salisbury at the University of Massachusetts Medical School is studying whether that light stimulation could help with breathing, heart rate, and irritability in babies born dependent on opioids -- a condition known as 'neonatal abstinence syndrome.'
This mother's newborn is part of the study. She didn't want us to be identified, but told us to stay off heroin. She takes methadone which has left her baby in drug withdrawal. "I knew I could comfort her and hold her and be there, but there is only so much you can do when a baby goes through withdrawal," she said.
Babies like hers are often treated with more drugs, including morphine. Doctors hope the mattress can reduce the amount of pain killers needed.
"This is not a substitute right now. We actually don't even know when it works, who it works for, if it's gonna work for every baby," Salisbury said.
Salisbury says early results of the five-year study are promising, and that gives this mother hope as she tries to make a fresh start with her daughter.