Researchers identify potential infant fentanyl syndrome after studying 10 babies

A new study has identified a potential new syndrome in babies whose mothers used fentanyl while they were pregnant.

Doctors have identified 10 babies who were born with congenital disabilities and whose mothers used street drugs, including fentanyl, during pregnancy, according to the study by Nemours Children's Health in Wilmington, Delaware.

"This novel syndrome is clinically recognizable," the study's authors wrote. "The striking findings in these individuals allowed for the recognition of this novel syndrome."

Researchers identified key recognizable traits the babies have in common, including small heads, genital abnormalities, cleft palates and clubfoot, among others. They also observed webbing between toes, and short and broad thumbs.

Six babies from the Nemours study were featured in a photo published in an article in Genetics in Medicine Open.
Six babies from the Nemours study were featured in a photo published in an article in Genetics in Medicine Open.

A broader problem

This new syndrome is part of a broader American fentanyl crisis.

"This is concerning," said Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, the president of the March of Dimes, told NBC News. "As we see these shared characteristics identified, we may be unroofing a real syndrome."

Erin Wadman, a genetic counselor at Nemours, discovered the possible new syndrome while assessing a baby with congenital disabilities in August 2022.

"This clinical report is critical to delineate this novel condition and to set the stage for future research," the report said while noting key limitations, including the sample size. "The incidence of this novel syndrome needs to be studied, in particular in the context of the fentanyl use epidemic."

Addiction forgivin: Her alcoholic father died and missed her wedding. She forgives him anyway.

How dangerous is fentanyl?

These fake okycodone pills confiscated in a drug bust contain fentanyl and acetaminophen.
These fake okycodone pills confiscated in a drug bust contain fentanyl and acetaminophen.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are responsible for most overdose deaths. These drugs are highly dangerous, and even a small amount can cause death. Shockingly, over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

If you suspect that someone is overdosing on opioids, it is important to recognize the symptoms. Here are some signs you should look for:

  • Constricted pupils

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Slow breathing

  • Choking or gurgling sounds

  • Limp body

  • Cold and clammy skin

  • Discoloration of skin, especially in lips and nails

Were the babies confirmed to be on fentanyl?

It's concerning to learn that all babies in the study tested positive for fentanyl exposure. However, it's worth noting that the researchers cannot yet confirm a direct link between the drug and the new syndrome.

During the mothers' pregnancies, many other drugs were used, which could have contributed to the syndrome. Further investigation is necessary to determine the exact cause and prevent any potential harm in the future, the authors said.

The researchers have a long way to go before proving their hypothesis. They need to ensure that the defects are not caused by other street drugs or contaminants in the fentanyl.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Infant fentanyl syndrome: What you need to know about new study