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Penn's School of Nursing found that infants born experiencing opioid withdrawal who receive care in lower-quality hospitals are more likely to have poor health outcomes.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

A Penn School of Nursing study found that infants born experiencing opioid withdrawal are more likely to be cared for in poorer-quality hospitals.

The study, published in Hospital Pediatrics, found that because these infants receive care in lower-quality hospitals, they are more likely to have poor health outcomes, Penn Today reported.

The research team was composed of Nursing School researcher and professor Eileen Lake, Nursing School fellows Rachel French and Rebecca Clark, manager of the Intensive Care Nursery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Kathleen O'Rourke, and associate chief of the Division of Neonatology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Scott Lorch.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome occurs in infants when they face withdrawal from opioids after exposure to the substance in the womb. Withdrawal symptoms may include seizures, twitching, tight muscle tone, excessive crying, slow weight gain, breathing problems, fever, and blotchy skin, according to March of Dimes.

The research team used three datasets from 2016 encompassing information on over 3,100 infants at 266 different hospitals, Penn Today reported.

Cases of NAS have increased by 500% in the past decade as the United States faces an opioid epidemic, Penn Today reported. In 2019, Penn Medicine launched a Center for Excellence to study the impacts of opioids on the brain to better understand how to treat addiction.

Lake and her colleagues plan to continue their research about nursing care for infants with NAS, Penn Today reported. They have submitted a National Institutes of Health grant application to study how resources available to nurses and their working conditions affect health outcomes for critically ill newborns.