Native Americans on the Ropes – 

June 26, 2019 – Brittany lives in Sandy Lake First Nation, a small remote Indigenous community in northwestern Ontario that is reachable only by plane. (The patients in this article asked to be identified only by first names.) When her fourth child was born in 2017, the baby exhibited withdrawal symptoms associated with neonatal abstinence syndrome. “I noticed she was jittery, she couldn’t eat and wouldn’t suck,” Brittany said. “She just kept coughing and was constipated.”

North America’s opioid crisis has hit Indigenous communities hard. In northwestern Ontario, opioid use affects up to 30 percent of pregnancies. Across the border in Minnesota, Native American infants are more than seven times more likely to be born with neonative abstinence syndrome, often referred to as NAS, than non-Hispanic white infants. While little is known so far about the long-term effects, opioid abuse during pregnancy can cause complications and even miscarriages.

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