A new study found at least 10 babies born with similar birth defects all had a common denominator – the mother used fentanyl during pregnancy.
Erin Wadman a genetic counselor at Nemours Children's Health in Delaware, and her team published the findings in Genetics in Medicine Open.
"We believe this is related to illicit use of fentanyl, not prescription use of fentanyl at this point," Wadman said.
Of the 6 infant patients detailed in the study, all or most had smaller heads, conjoined toes, and a cleft palate.
Most are also in foster care in different parts of the country from Rhode Island to California.
All the children tested negative for a known genetic syndrome, which is why doctors believe this novel syndrome is associated with prenatal fentanyl exposure.
Dr. Cathy Ward is a pediatrician at Big Apple Pediatrics on the Upper West Side and says birth defects can negatively impact children as they grow.
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"We see babies can be born very irritable," Dr. Ward said. "They can have feeding difficulties. They can develop developmental milestone issues, for example, walking later, talking later, low muscle tone, [and] speech and language delays."
She also says clinicians need to be diligent and pay attention to any patterns.
"This is how we all came to recognize fetal alcohol syndrome and also isotretinoin in acne and what kind of birth defects that can cause for people," Dr. Ward added.
The doctors in the study plan on keeping a close eye on this new syndrome to officially determine if fentanyl itself is the cause.
"There might be something laced with the fentanyl, another contaminant, [or] other confounding factors," Wadman added.
"Nemours Children’s Health asks other centers, institutions, and doctors to report on their own findings to validate what they're also seeing," she said.