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Neonatal withdrawal from maternal volatile substance abuse.
  1. M. Tenenbein,
  2. O. G. Casiro,
  3. M. M. Seshia,
  4. V. D. Debooy
  1. Department of Pediatrics, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.


    AIM: To determine whether neonates born to mothers who are volatile substance abusers are at risk for an abstinence syndrome. METHODS: A consecutive sample of infants born to volatile substance abusing mothers was studied over four years, in a university affiliated medical centre with a variable mix of primary, secondary, and tertiary care patients. Infants were clinically scored with the Finnegan Neonatal Abstinence Scoring System. Those who fulfilled a priori scoring criteria were treated with phenobarbital and scoring was continued. RESULTS: There were 48 babies of whom 32 fulfilled the criteria for pharmacotherapy. All eight babies with the characteristic odour, and 15 of the 21 born to mothers with that odour, fulfilled these criteria. The typical symptoms were excessive and high pitched cry, sleeplessness, hyperactive Moro reflex, tremor, hypotonia, and poor feeding. Mean age of onset of treatment was 27.1 hours and mean duration was 5.8 days. Treatment was judged effective in 17 of 27, while benefit was borderline in three and absent in seven. CONCLUSIONS: It is suggested that there is an identifiable neonatal volatile substance abuse abstinence syndrome. The characteristic chemical odour in the neonate or mother is a marker for its occurrence, and phenobarbital treatment seems to be effective. The Finnegan Scoring System seems to be useful for grading its severity.

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