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N.H. sees sharp increase in newborns who were exposed to drugs before birth

In 2009, 116 New Hampshire infants were diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS, more than five times as many as in 2000, according to a new report.

The syndrome is caused by exposure to addictive drugs during pregnancy.

Babies exposed to drugs in utero can experience fever, diarrhea, seizures and problems sleeping, feeding and gaining weight.

The exact symptoms depend on the drug to which the baby was exposed.

The most-common drugs affecting newborns in New Hampshire are methadone and buprenorphine, according to State Maternal and Child Health Epidemiologist David Laflamme, who sits on the Prenatal Substance Exposure Task Force.

The report, released last month by the New Hampshire Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, shows a dramatic increase in diagnoses over the first decade of the millenium.

In 2000, 22 infants were diagnosed with NAS; in 2006, 72 infants were diagnosed. In 2008, the number increased to 101.

Babies diagnosed with this syndrome stay in the hospital for 16 days after birth on average, while healthy babies stay on average for three days, according to the report.

The report also showed that drug-related deaths in New Hampshire peaked in 2011 at 200, more than ever before and four times as many deaths as in 2000. Eighty percent of those drug deaths involved prescription medication, primarily opioid pain relievers.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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