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Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome: A Developmental Care Approach

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Abstract

Tens of thousands of infants are impacted yearly by prenatal opioid exposure. The term neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS) is now replacing the more familiar term neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Ongoing debate continues related to standard regimens for treatment of this oftentimes perplexing condition. Historically, treatment has focused on pharmacologic interventions. However, there is limited research that points to nonpharmacologic methods of treatment as viable options, whether alone or in addition to pharmacologic interventions. This article, utilizing a review of pertinent literature, outlines the physical aspects of NOWS, including its pathophysiology and the resulting physical clinical signs. In addition, we present an overview of how age-appropriate, nonpharmacologic interventions, centered on developmental care, may be a valuable approach to organize and prioritize routine care for these infants, their families, and the health care team facing the challenges of NOWS. Finally, the need for further research to better define evidence-based standards of care for these infants and their families is discussed.

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