December 07, 2016
The College of Pharmacy Monthly Research Publication Highlight documents the rise in the number of newborns beginning life facing drug withdrawal in the nation, and particularly in Kentucky.
The UK College of Pharmacy Research Publication Highlight for November 2016 was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association -Pediatrics and is titled “Rates of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Amid Efforts to Combat the Opioid Abuse Epidemic”.
The graduate student-initiated project was conducted in the UK College of Pharmacy’s Institute for Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy (IPOP). The lead author is Joshua Brown, a PharmD and graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Jeff Talbert, Director of IPOP. Graduate students Pratik Doshi and Nathan Pauly also contributed to the study.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) occurs in infants that are exposed to drugs, most commonly opiates such as Oxycontin or heroin, while in the womb of a mother who is using prescription or illicit drugs. Newborns undergoing withdrawal often experience fever, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, and slow growth among other serious conditions. Despite growing awareness of opiate abuse and policy initiatives to curb the availability of prescription opiates, the investigative team found that the number of infants born with NAS increased from 2.8 per 1000 births in 2008 to 7.3 in 2013, the most recent data available across the US. The epidemic is even greater in Kentucky, where the incidence rose from 5.0 to a staggering 21.2 per 1000 births in 2014. These data indicate that 1 in every 50 babies born in Kentucky experienced NAS. According to data from the Center for Disease Control, a newborn in the state of Kentucky is 14-times more likely to have NAS than Downs Syndrome. The authors recommend additional policy initiatives that target pregnant mothers and women of childbearing age to curb this burgeoning epidemic.
“These numbers are simply staggering, shed an unfavorable light on a major health disparity in the state of Kentucky, and are a call to action for state and national policymakers. I can’t say enough about the graduate students who drove this project to better understand the magnitude of one of the state’s greatest healthcare challenges,” said Greg Graf, Assistant Dean for Translational Research.