newbornWithdrawal from substance abuse in adults is considered one of the worst parts of “getting clean.” Withdrawal symptoms are caused by a decreased level of the substance in the body of a person who has grown accustomed to prolonged use. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms depends on the substance and the duration of use.

Mild withdrawal symptoms include confusion and irritability. Severe symptoms include intense abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, drenching sweats, seizures and even death.

Now, imagine you are a nurse caring for a patient who is showing signs of withdrawal, but your patient is a brand new baby.

Babies suffering from opioid withdrawal often show signs of extreme irritability, severe tremors, contracted musculature, poor feeding ability, difficulty sleeping, vomiting, diarrhea and profuse sweating – just to name a few. The most heart-wrenching is their high-pitched, inconsolable, painful cry.

This group of symptoms is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), the most common cause of which is opioid exposure in the womb. Nationally, the number of infants born with NAS has increased nearly 300% since 2000.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing this trend right here at home, too.

At Southeastern Med, 6% of pregnant women admitted to using alcohol use and more than 13% admitted to using drugs during their pregnancies. That’s in just the first six months of 2017, and the actual percentages are likely higher. Opioids are the second-most common drug abused among mothers at time of delivery, and in Ohio, the rate of NAS births increased a staggering 675% from 2006 to 2015.

Another staggering statistic is the cost of the medical care that addicted newborns require. State-administered Medicaid programs were responsible for covering 80% of the $1.5 billion in charges for treatment of neonatal opioid withdrawal at U.S. hospitals in 2012. Treating newborns with NAS was associated with over $133 million in charges in Ohio hospitals in 2015.

Now more than ever, it’s essential for public health programs to help prevent unnecessary opioid use and treat substance use disorders during pregnancy. Locally, there are two community groups working to address the opioid epidemic in our area.

  • CHOICES – which stands for Community, Hope, Opportunity, Independence, Change, Empowerment, Success – is a coalition of community leaders and representatives from local healthcare organizations, government agencies, educational institutions and law enforcement. CHOICES has helped reduce the number of opiates on the street by sharing information across municipalities and organizing opiate drop-off events. In August 2017, CHOICES collected 2,800 unused opiates that could have found their way to the streets.

  • Clean Start is a group of local agencies helping pregnant women stay sober and providing services to pregnant/newly delivered women and newborns.

This month, Southeastern Med is participating in the National Family Partnership’s Red Ribbon Week, an annual observance dedicated to drug use prevention, education and advocacy.

This year’s theme is: Your Future Is Key, So Stay Drug Free. Throughout the month of October, all babies born at Southeastern Med will go home with a red hat. As part of this campaign, we’ll also be sharing drug use prevention information and local treatment and recovery resources with the newborns’ families.