Apr 30, 2012 6:48 PM
(NBC) - A newborn's tiny cry grows louder and becomes inconsolable when the baby is born addicted to prescription painkillers.
Neo-natologists say they can tell which infants are experiencing withdrawal symptoms just by listening to their shrill cries.
Over the past decade, Dr. Stephen Patrick of the University of Michigan and his colleagues noticed an increase in babies born with neo-natal abstinence syndrome.
"They have more issues with feeding, they appear uncomfortable, they oftentimes will scratch their face," says Dr. Patrick.
When they looked at hospital records from across the U.S. they found the number of newborns with drug withdrawal tripled between 2000 and 2009.
"By 2009, that number exceeded 13,000 or about one baby born per hour with signs of drug withdrawal," he says.
While the study did not look at the exact drugs taken during pregnancy, researchers found the number of mothers using or abusing opiate painkillers like Vicodin, Methodone and Oxycontin skyrocketed since the year 2000.
The majority are covered by state medicaid programs.
"States are really incentivized to do things like limit opiate exposure before these babies are born and potentially promote innovations to care for these babies most effectively after they're born," Dr. Patrick says.
The cost for treating the infants reached more than $700 million in 2009, as the babies must stay in the hospital and be weaned off the narcotics, sometimes over a period of weeks or months.
Doctors say the safest pain killer to take during pregnancy remains Acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol.