As a nurse practitioner working in medication-assisted treatment of opiate addiction, I appreciate the attention to neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) (“Improving Outcomes for Infants With NAS,” by Craig L. Jensen, MD, June 2014), but I have to take exception to the author’s use of the emotion-laden phrase, “babies born addicted.”

A newborn cannot be “addicted.” “Dependent,” yes. But addiction is an ongoing compulsive behavior or use of a substance despite negative consequences. The “addicted baby” language is just plain inaccurate and reinforces the stigma associated with this chronic relapsing brain disorder. The end result keeps mothers from seeking treatment and encourages judgmental treatment by health-care professionals. 


Language has power.—John Mark Blowen, APRN, Stratham, N.H.


Article author Craig L. Jensen, MD, responds: 


I agree with the comment. That said, the term “addicted” in this setting is widely used, including in many current educational websites (e.g., an NLM/Medline web article on NAS states, “The baby becomes addicted along with the mother”—nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007313.htm; accessed December 14, 2014), treatment-center websites, numerous articles and video reports from various media outlets, websites intended for health-care professionals (with titles such as “Guidelines Updated for Treating Drug-Addicted Newborns”), and even in medical literature. 


Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for “Drug Addiction in Infants” mirrors the admonition of the commenter that the term “drug addiction” cannot be properly applied in infants, but the last sentence of the same article (“Babies born today that are addicted to prescription painkillers has [sic] tripled in the last decade”) still uses this incorrect terminology (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_addiction_in_infants; accessed December 14, 2014).


Nonetheless, despite its widespread use, I agree that the term “addicted” in the context of NAS is clinically incorrect. (195-3)



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