By 2009 there were more than 13,000 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a withdrawal syndrome that occurs in some babies after being exposed to a class of painkillers, called opiates, while in utero, according to the study published Monday.
"That's about one baby per hour," said Dr. Stephen Patrick, lead author of the study, which was published online in the Journal of American Medical Association. "We were surprised by it. That's a startling increase."
Perhaps more startling - that one baby per hour figure marks about a three-fold increase in the number of babies born with NAS since 2000; and during the same time period, opiate use among expectant mothers was also jumping, increasing nearly five-fold.
"There has been an incredible increase in the number of opiate pain relievers prescribed in the U.S.," said Patrick, a fellow in the University of Michigan's Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. "We think that might be part of the increase we are seeing."
Image: Pregnant belly, via Shutterstock.