What Happens To An Infant’s Brain On Opioids

By Dr. John Rosa

opioid addiction

This is not a question that should have to be asked.

However, it is one that has had to be asked and studied and answered since 1991 when opioid deaths began to rise. The three following examples from the professional American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) are just a tiny sampling of what’s going on in our world as a result of being steeped in the opioid crisis for nearly 30 years.

“A speech-language pathologist is called in to help with a newborn who is struggling with feeding. It turns out the infant has neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). His feeding problem is just one of many symptoms he experiences as he withdraws from the opioids his mother used during pregnancy”.

“An audiologist receives a referral to follow up with an infant who did not pass her newborn hearing screening. She has a history of NAS as a result of the opioids and other drugs her mother is addicted to. Fortunately, the screening result was false-positive, and the child has no hearing loss.”

“A school-based SLP gets an IEP testing request for a student who is lagging behind his peers in his language and literacy skills. It turns out the student had NAS as an infant.” 

When Will the Madness End?

According to specialists, those referenced above and others, babies deprived of opioids after birth tend to be fussier, have gastrointestinal issues and difficulties feeding. They also suggest that children who experienced NAS as infants may struggle with communication and literacy. The big concern though is that the effects of NAS may never disappear. There is concern that adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes may be long-term.

We are seeing and living with the mainstream results of Generation O, as I wrote about in a previous article (see The Early Demise Of Innocence For Generation “O”). According to and article on the ASHA websites, “The number of infants with NAS increased by 300 percent between 2009 and 2013, with an incidence of six cases per 1,000 births in 2013, the last time these statistics were collected.

In other words, every 25 minutes in the U.S., an infant is diagnosed with NAS. More current state-level statistics suggest the problem is worsening. In Tennessee, incidence rose from 0.7 to 13.0 cases between 1999 and 2015.”

How and when are we going to stop this madness? We are merely perpetuating more pain and suffering. Let’s not forget the innocent children as we make efforts to find meaningful ways to curb this crisis.