Like the rest of the country, Texas is in the midst of a fierce and tragic drug addiction epidemic. It is not news to anyone living in the lone star state who have been affected by addiction that drugs like meth, opioids and cocaine are devastating public health issues with the power to end lives and destroy families. One group of casualties commonly affected by the disease of addiction is newborn babies born to vulnerable mothers. A research project in San Antonio, Texas, is aiming to ease the suffering of these babies and their mothers during this urgent and incredibly difficult time.
Prescription opioid addiction is affecting more and more newborns in San Antonio. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, about 400 drug dependent babies are born in Bexar County each year. That’s one-third of all the cases in Texas. When a baby is born addicted, first early stages of life incredibly difficult and even impede natural development. It also leaves guilt-ridden mothers vulnerable to crippling emotional distress and mental illness as they’re confronted with what addiction has done to them. The withdrawal process can last days, weeks, even a couple of agonizing months. The medical term for the condition is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS.
Physicians at the San Antonio’s U.T. Health Science Center are utilizing a method called kangaroo care to help babies more comfortably overcome their withdrawal periods. Kangaroo care is a method of holding a baby that involves skin-to-skin contact. The baby, who is naked except for a diaper and a piece of cloth covering his or her back (either a receiving blanket or the parent's clothing), is placed in an upright position against a parent's bare chest. Some of the immediate health benefits include:
- Stabilization of the baby's heart rate
- Improved (more regular) breathing pattern
- Improved oxygen saturation levels
- Increase in sleep time
- Accelerated weight gain
- Decreased crying
- More successful breastfeeding episodes
Kangaroo care was first developed in he 1970s in response to the high mortality rate of premature babies born abroad. Researchers found that babies who were held close to their mothers' bodies for large portions of the day not only survived, but thrived. The method soon made its way to the United States where it is utilized in a variety of cases. In a state in which opioid dependency and other forms of drug addiction are becoming an increasingly common reality, another medical intervention to help affected infants can only help save lives.