The opioid epidemic (also known as the opioid crisis) refers to the extensive overuse of opioid drugs that began in the United States in the late 1990s.
- Our national opioid problem also affects the well-being of children in a striking fashion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2008 and 2012, a third of women in their childbearing years filled opioid-based medication prescriptions in pharmacies and an estimated 14 percent–22 percent of them were pregnant. The result: an alarming increase in the number of babies exposed to opioids in utero and experiencing withdrawal symptoms at birth, which is also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, in medical lingo. [...] (Given the ongoing opioid crisis, it’s unlikely that things have improved in recent years.) And the complications attributable to NAS don’t stop with birth. Though the research remains at an early stage—the opioid crisis only began in the early 1990s—it suggests that the ill effects of NAS extend well beyond infancy and include impaired cognitive and motor skills, respiratory ailments, learning disabilities, difficulty maintaining intellectual focus, and behavioral traits that make productive interaction with others harder. At this point, you won’t be surprised to learn that NAS and child poverty are connected. Prescription opioid use rates are much higher for women on Medicaid, who are more likely to be poor than those with private insurance. Moreover, the abuse of, and overdose deaths from, opioids (whether obtained through prescriptions or illegally) have been far more widespread among the poor.