Long-term unemployment linked to increase in babies born with drug withdrawal

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Babies born after being exposed to opioids before birth are more likely to be delivered in regions of the U.S. with high rates of long-term unemployment and lower levels of mental health services, according to a study from researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the RAND Corporation.

Studying more than 6.3 million births in a diverse group of eight states, the study found that rural counties plagued by long-term unemployment had significantly higher rates of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome as compared to urban counties with lower unemployment rates.

Counties with shortages of mental health providers also had higher levels of neonatal abstinence syndrome as compared to other counties. The association was observed primarily in urban areas.

The study, published in the Jan. 29 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to examine the association between long-term economic conditions, health care provider shortage areas and the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can occur when babies are chronically exposed to opioids before birth.