The power of music to heal addiction is being taken a step further at a hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Physicians at Cosair Children’s Hospital are using music therapy to treat newborns suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Kentucky’s explosion of opioid addiction has even managed to affect expectant mothers, causing babies to be born suffering from withdrawal symptoms before they take their first breaths. Some of the more common symptoms include elevated heart rate, gastrointestinal distress and tremors. More serious symptoms include seizures and respiratory problems. While these babies are not technically considered addicts, many are born with serious symptoms. The problem has become tragically common in a state that saw 1,087 overdose fatalities in 2014.
In addition to traditional methods like morphine therapy, staff at Cosair Children’s hospital have been integrating music therapy into NAS sufferers’ care plans. The hospital began using the therapy two years ago after seeing a significant increase in NAS patients. Since 2011, the number of NAS cases the hospital sees has risen from about 30 to between 70 and 100 per year. The therapy consists of gentle singing with rhythmic rocking and patting to match the baby’s behavioral state. It is a series of complex rocking motions, the intensity of which increases with the baby’s state of activity. Practitioners also utilize a pressurized pacifier that plays music which is hooked up to machine that controls pressure and volume.
The goal of the therapy is to get the child to sooth itself. Practitioners believe that a more relaxed state improves eating and sleeping while reducing crying and physical discomfort. It is not clear how many other hospitals in Kentucky or the rest of the country are using music therapy for NAS; however, its success in treating patients at Cosair is just one more example of music’s power universal power to heal.