Necrotizing enterocolitis and its association with the neonatal abstinence syndrome

Andrews, L., Davies, T.H., Haas, J., Loudin, S., Heyward, A., Werthammer, J.* | JNPM 2020;


OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to describe an identified association between necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and prenatal opioid exposure with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in late preterm and full-term neonates.

STUDY DESIGN: In this single-center retrospective cohort study, we analyzed inborn neonates with the diagnosis of NEC discharged from 2012 through 2017. We compared infants with NEC > 35 weeks’ gestation to those with NEC<35 weeks’ gestation. We compared gestational age, birth weight, age of onset of symptoms, and incidence of prenatal drug exposure between groups. Significance was determined using Mann-Whitney and Fisher’s exact tests.

RESULTS: Over the study period, 23 infants were identified with NEC, 9 (39%) were babies > 35 weeks at birth and 14 (61%) < 35 weeks. Those > 35 weeks had a higher birth weight, earlier onset of symptoms, and a higher percentage of prenatal exposure to opioids compared to those < 35 weeks’ gestation. We further described seven infants with late gestational age onset NEC associated with prenatal opioid exposure.

CONCLUSIONS: In this cohort of infants with NEC discharged over a 6 year period we found a higher than expected percentage of infants born at a later gestational age. We speculate that prenatal opioid exposure might be a risk factor for NEC in neonates born at > 35 weeks.

*Corresponding Author: 

Joseph Werthammer, MD, Department of Pediatrics, 1600 Medical Center Drive, Suite 3407, Huntington WV, USA. E-mail: