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Comment & Response
August 21, 2018

Stigmatizing Language About Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Family and Community Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
JAMA. 2018;320(7):722-723. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.7812

To the Editor The opinion piece by Dr Cuneo1 used stigmatizing and inaccurate language that can exacerbate existing barriers to care faced by parents, particularly mothers, with substance use disorders.2 NAS is not a euphemism, it is a medical diagnosis. Neonates are not born addicted to substances; rather they can be physically dependent on substances they have been exposed to in the perinatal period. In the children’s hospital affiliated with our institution, the most frequent cause of NAS is not in utero opioid exposure but postnatal exposure related to perioperative pain control. No judgment is placed nor addiction terminology used to describe these neonates and infants. In other hospitals, the major cause of NAS may be mothers receiving standard treatment of their opioid use disorder with opioid agonist medications during the perinatal period. Use of addiction terminology to describe their neonates and infants creates unnecessary stigma toward these life-saving medications.