Fentanyl Baby Syndrome

Jump to a section
Table of contents
Expand list

It is widely known that women who abuse substances during pregnancy may be causing irreversible damage to the fetus they are carrying. Recent findings have discovered a pattern in babies who endured a pregnancy where the mother was addicted to fentanyl, and the results leading to fentanyl baby syndrome have been astonishing.

Avenues Recovery, experts in drug addiction and rehab, present these startling findings.

Facial Features of a Drug Baby

Ten babies whose mothers reported using fentanyl in pregnancy were all said to be born with similar distinct features. (All ten babies themselves also tested positive for fentanyl when born.) The babies tested negative for Smith Lemley Opitz syndrome, a genetic condition that has similarities to the effects of fentanyl on a baby.

Below are the fentanyl baby features that presented in all ten infants:

  • Smaller heads
  • Clubbed, conjoined toes
  • Cleft palate
  • Short, broad thumbs
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Upturned noses
  • Undersized lower jaws
  • Single palmar crease

The common abnormalities in the six babies found to have Fentanyl Baby Syndrome in a study

All About Fentanyl

Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid drug, is used in the medical arena as a painkiller and an anesthetic. Fentanyl is similar to morphine in that they both act as pain relievers, but dissimilar in that it is 50 to 100 times more potent. Fentanyl is also widely misused on the street, as it causes pleasurable immediate after-effects such as a euphoric ‘high,’ a sense of calm, or relief from debilitating pain. It can be taken via a pill/capsule, injection, transdermal patch, nasal sprays, or eye droppers.

Unfortunately, there are also adverse side effects when misusing fentanyl for a prolonged period, some of which are dangerous. Some of these side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Breathing issues
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Irregular or slow heartbeat
  • Sedation
  • Unconsciousness

Another unfortunate outcome of self-medicating or using fentanyl is overdose. Fentanyl overdose occurs when such a high dose is taken that breathing slows and ultimately stops, resulting in too little oxygen reaching the brain. This is also known as hypoxia, a dangerous condition that can lead to death.

Fentanyl users are also at risk of becoming dependent on the drug, which can quickly escalate into a full-blown addiction.

Discovering Fentanyl Baby Syndrome

The discovery was made by Eric Waldman, a genetic counselor at Nemours Children Health, examining a baby born with congenital deformities in August 2022. He remembered having seen the distinct features earlier the same year. Altogether, six babies with Fentanyl Baby Syndrome were identified at Nemours Children’s Health in Wilmington, Delaware.

As of today, there is no definite research that proves the connection between fentanyl exposure in babies and the syndrome that has been identified in all ten infants. The babies all tested positive for fentanyl, but since some of the mothers were using other illicit drugs, it’s difficult to pin fentanyl as the definite cause of the syndrome. Additionally, fentanyl can be laced with other illegal substances that the user is unaware that they are consuming at all, making the study more complex.

Fentanyl bottle surrounded by pills and syringe. Fentanyl Baby Syndrome results from fentanyl use in pregnancy

What Causes Fetal Fentanyl Syndrome?

Early findings have hypothesized that fentanyl causes disruptions to cholesterol metabolism, similar to the way Smith Lemley Opitz syndrome is developed in babies during pregnancy. The next step in the research process would be to examine the effects of fentanyl and whether or not it can cause damage to cholesterol metabolism. Research will also have to uncover how much fentanyl the womb must be exposed to in order to cause Fetal Fentanyl Syndrome, and why some fentanyl babies have birth defects, while others don’t. 

The Future of Children Born With Fentanyl Baby Syndrome

The ten children in the study have a long road ahead of them. Predictably, they will need intense physical and occupational therapy to help them function like normal children. Because their joints aren’t fully formed, they will have trouble walking and holding things, among other developmental and physical issues.

Fentanyl babies’ birth defects include feeding difficulties, which will most likely necessitate a feeding tube as they grow. Communication (speaking) is another big hurdle these children will have to overcome. The children will also need corrective surgeries and other interventions to deal with the deformities, heal their respiratory issues, and resolve other issues associated with this syndrome.

The Crisis of Fentanyl Exposure in Babies

The problem of women using drugs during pregnancy is widespread and concerning. Most women know that consuming illicit substances while pregnant is harmful to the unborn baby, but only a tiny percentage of addicted women enter treatment. 

Many issues are caused by using drugs during pregnancy, such as stillbirth, birth defects, and neonatal abstinence syndrome, where babies born with fentanyl or other drug exposure experience withdrawal symptoms at birth. This is because their bodies have become dependent on the drug the mother was taking during pregnancy.

Pregnant woman with bottle of pills possibly containing fentanyl, risking Fentanyl Baby Syndrome in her child

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

As with any addictive substance, professional intervention is needed to help people wean off fentanyl safely and stay sober for the long term. To minimize and manage withdrawal symptoms, a residential rehab facility, hospital, or other medical institution can help you taper off fentanyl gradually while monitoring the effects in what is known as drug detox treatment

Mental health professionals provide different forms of relief for unavoidable symptoms, such as medication, fluids, and management techniques.

The next step, once the person struggling with addiction has successfully flushed the substance out of the body and recovered from the withdrawal symptoms, is to pursue sobriety. This can be achieved through outpatient care in some cases but often necessitates inpatient care at a drug rehab facility.

Help to Prevent Fentanyl Baby Syndrome

At Avenues Recovery, we offer one-on-one and group therapies, holistic therapies, and other beneficial programs that utilize the most updated techniques by the most professional staff to help our patients achieve a drug-free life. 

If you are struggling with a fentanyl addiction and hoping to avoid fentanyl baby syndrome, take the first step towards recovery at Avenues. Our talented and dedicated staff have helped thousands of people overcome their addictions, and they can help you too. Reach out today to start your journey.

Check your insurance

We received your insurance request!

We will get back to you shortly. While you wait... you may find our resource blog helpful. Take a look below: