Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Associated Health Care Expenditures

United States, 2000-2009

The study examines the dramatic rise in NAS, and the increase in hospital charges over a 10-year period.

Drug withdrawal in infants born to opiate-abusing mothers—Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)—is increasingly prevalent.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) occurs in newborns and is primarily caused by opiate use by the mother during the prenatal period. There are currently no national estimates on NAS or for the incidence of opiate use among expectant mothers. Using a nationally representative sample of newborns, this article discusses the retrospective analysis performed for hospital expenditures and length of stay costs from 2000 through 2009 for newborns with NAS.

Key Findings:

  • Over the 10-year period studied, the incidence of NAS among newborns increased dramatically, nearly three-fold, as did the incidence of mothers dependent upon opiates or using drugs.
  • While being adjusted for inflation to 2009 U.S. dollars, the mean hospital charges for newborns diagnosed with NAS increased from $39,400 in 2000 to $53,400 in 2009. However, the average length of stay in the hospital stayed relatively unchanged over the 10-year period.

This study has several limitations as it uses discharge data that may have included errors or omissions and inaccurate coding. Also, physician awareness of NAS may be increasing causing the incidence to go up. Despite these and other limitations mentioned, the increasing prevalence of NAS and its associated health care expenditures are a considerable public health concern.

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