Opioid epidemic: Number of newborns experiencing withdrawal symptoms rises in Alberta

The number of newborns showing opioid withdrawal symptoms in Alberta continues to rise. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP- /Patrick Sison

The opioid epidemic is an issue that affects not only those who physically take the drugs, as the number of newborns across Alberta suffering from withdrawals continues to rise.

Alberta Health said that between 2013 and 2017, the number of newborns exposed to opioids during pregnancy increased 75 per cent.

In 2013, 141 newborns in Alberta were found suffering with neonatal opioid withdrawal symptoms and hospitalized.

That works out to an average of 2.7 hospitalizations for every 1,000 births.

In 2017, those numbers rose to 246 affected infants and 4.6 cases for every 1,000 births.

With differing rates across the province, some communities have been hit harder by the effects of the opioid epidemic than others.

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Last year alone, Calgary saw 56 infants who experienced withdrawal symptoms — the highest number in Alberta.

But the ratio is far higher in Lethbridge with 27 newborns hospitalized, which translates to an alarming 23.2 cases per 1,000 births.

MyHealth Alberta said neonatal withdrawal symptoms can occur when a newborn has been exposed to certain drugs throughout pregnancy, and children suffering from these symptoms could also be at risk of experiencing low birth weight and growth restrictions.

In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health did not respond to the rate of newborns showing withdrawal symptoms but to the overall opioid epidemic.

“Alberta has taken a number of important steps to fight back against the opioid crisis, including: supporting supervised consumption services and overdose prevention sites in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Red Deer,” the statement read in part.

With the epidemic continuing to affect populations across the province and the country, there have been no provincial programs announced to specifically deal with the rise in addicted newborns Alberta has seen over the last five years.


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