Heroin is an extremely dangerous drug that is known for thousands of deaths and treatment admissions each year. Women who use heroin during their pregnancy are not only putting their life at risk but the life of their unborn baby. Sadly these babies are born addicted to heroin and from birth begin to experience painful symptoms of withdrawal as their tiny bodies detox.
How Heroin Affects Pregnant Women?
Heroin abuse during pregnancy can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which occurs when heroin passes through the placenta to the fetus causing the baby to become dependent on the drug. Babies with NAS experience withdrawal symptoms including: excessive crying, fever, irritability, seizures, slow weight gain, tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, and possibly death.
Babies with NAS require hospitalization and treatment with medications such as morphine to relieve symptoms of heroin withdrawal. This medication is gradually weaned off until the baby is opioid free.
Pregnant women with heroin addiction are encouraged to take part in comprehensive drug treatment using methadone maintenance combined with prenatal care. This can greatly improve the outcome associated with untreated heroin use for both the infant baby and mother. The goal of methadone treatment is to have the mother off the medication by the time of delivery because infants exposed to methadone during pregnancy will also require treatment for NAS at birth.
Another treatment option for pregnant women with heroin addiction is buprenorphine treatment. Recent NIDA-supported clinical trial reports state that buprenorphine treatment of heroin addicted mothers is safe for both the unborn child and the mother. Babies born to mothers undergoing buprenorphine treatment often require less morphine and shorter hospital stays than those under methadone treatment. Treatment for these NAS babies often includes buprenorphine combined with naloxone, which greatly reduces the side effects associated with being born to a heroin addicted mother.