An estimated 13,500 babies born in U.S in the year 2009 were addicted to opiates, a new study reports. The number of pregnant women addicted to opiates increased by five times during 2000-2009 and the number of babies born addicted to these drugs increased threefold.

The study is published online in the Journal of American Medical Association.

The researchers at University of Michigan analyzed representative samples of national patient database. The researchers looked at the records of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

Neonatal abstinence syndrome or drug withdrawal symptoms include irritability, high pitched cry, tremors, and diarrhea. According to experts, these symptoms occur in 55-94 percent of babies who were exposed to opiates in the womb.

A related study published in BMJ’s ADC Fetal and Neonatal Edition says that methadone given to pregnant women to relieve pain resulted in fewer cases of drug-related addiction in the newborns. However, C. Sharpe reports that complications were seen in babies who were born pre-term.

According to experts, prescription painkillers share the blame for the increase in addiction of drugs among newborns.

Los Angeles Times reports that almost 6 out of every 1000 mothers who gave birth at a hospital in 2009 in U.S were addicted to opiates.

Dr Stephen W. Patrick, lead author of the study said that, according to a recent report released by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the sales of prescription drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin have quadrupled in the last decade.

According to the report, the cost of caring for babies born with addiction to opiates has increased from $39,400 in 2000 to $53,400 in 2009. The amount of time spent at hospital, however, did not change during the decade. Also, the total cost increased from $190 million to $720 million during the same period. Medicaid shared about 78% of this cost, up from 68% in the year 2000.

“Opiate use in our country is becoming an epidemic. Too often our health system reacts to problems; instead, we must address opiate use as a public health issue. To do this, we must limit opiate pain reliever use through healthcare provider education and statewide systems that watch for abuses, like people going to multiple doctors to get opiate prescriptions,” Patrick said.

“Given that newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome experience longer, often medically complex and costly initial hospitalizations, this study highlights the need for increased public health measures to reduce the number of babies exposed to opiate drugs,” says Dr Matthew M. Davis, senior author of the paper.

Currently babies born with NAS are kept in the hospital for about 16 days. Experts recommend that the babies must be kept in dark rooms to soothe them and in some cases small doses of methadone or another drug are given to pacify the baby. The doses are decreased over time until the baby is weaned off. But, this method can be dangerous as overdose of the drug is possible.