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Treatment Options for Addicted Newborns Improving in the US

Sadly, a major problem that has cropped up in the last decade in the substance abuse arena has been with babies being born addicted to drugs or alcohol.  This was rarely noted as an issue prior to the turn of the century, but with the advent of addictive prescription drugs, an increase in trafficking of illegal narcotics into the country from other nations, and an increase in the abuse of alcohol amongst the general American populace has all led to more and more cases of pregnant mothers abusing drugs and alcohol.  As a result of that, there have been more and more babies born addicted to drugs and alcohol.  Neonatal abstinence syndrome, (NAS), is a group of problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive opiate drugs while in the mother’s womb.

Almost as if paving the way for a new era of residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment facilities, a residential, inpatient drug treatment facility for newborns in Cabell County has now put itself on the map as a major source for inspiration.  The inspiration that this has created has resulted in groundbreaking legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that passed just recently, including in it a package of bills addressing the opioid addiction epidemic.  One of those bills in the package had in it help for addicted pregnant women and their newborns as well.

The process of rehabilitating an addicted mother and newborn is very detailed and technical.  The center in Cabell County is one of the first of its kind, but more will come soon.  One technician at the center had this to say about their process

“The umbilical cord is cut and the exposure to the drugs that were in the mother’s bloodstream ends and we all know what it’s like for an adult to go through withdrawal, but it just breaks your heart when you think that a newborn infant starts their first days (in drug withdrawal).”

How the Newborns are Taken Care Of

Newborns with addiction to a substance of one kind or another definitely require specialized care to the tee that can sometimes be five times greater than the costs of treating other babies, according to specialist staff. Much of that care is paid for through Medicaid, either in hospitals or through facilities similar to Lily’s Place in Huntington.  It is very difficult to rehabilitate newborns without seriously putting their lives at risk, so the process is very technical, very well thought out, and very slow.

Lily’s Place, like the one in Cabell County, serves as a transitional space, (from hospital to home), for babies sadly born addicted to drugs. In April, the facility admitted its 100th baby since it first opened in the year of 2014.  A staff there had this to say about their program:

“This is just another model of care.  This legislation will allow a careful evaluation of this and other models so they can be replicated in other parts of the country.  We hope to see more programs like ours soon.”

The goal of the NAS Act recently passed in the House of Representatives is to improve access to NAS treatment under state Medicaid programs so that addicted mothers will not have to risk the chance of saving their baby’s life because they cannot afford to pay for treatment.

With Medicaid coverage though, these centers could sprout up anywhere.  The goal thus far is to have at least four to eight of them in every state, as the prevalence of NAS simple continues to grow over and over again.  The number of NAS babies has increased more than tenfold since the turn of the century, so the need is definitely there.  For example:

• There was a five-fold increase in the proportion of babies born with NAS from 2000 to 2012, when an estimated 21,732 infants were born with NAS —equivalent to one baby suffering from opiate withdrawal born every 25 minutes.

• Newborns with NAS were more likely than other babies to also have low birthweight and respiratory complications. The number of delivering mothers using or dependent on opiates rose nearly five-fold from 2000 to 2009, to an estimated 23,009.

• In 2012, newborns with NAS stayed in the hospital an average of 16.9 days (compared to 2.1. days for other newborns), costing hospitals an estimated $1.5 billion; the majority of these charges (81%) were paid by state Medicaid programs, reflecting the greater tendency of opiate-abusing mothers to be from lower-income communities. The rising frequency (and costs) of drug withdrawal in newborns points to the need for measures to reduce antenatal exposure to opiates.

• Drug use and abuse and alcohol addiction can be a very debilitating and devastating condition, not just for the addict, but also for the spouses and families of the addict and his or her babies too, to one degree or another.  Dealing with the addiction can put family members under extreme stress, and living in the intense emotional environment addiction causes can be quite traumatic for all involved in it.

• While American families including the babies and infants in those families have been known to have a remarkable ability to maintain homeostasis, the introduction of a drug or alcohol addiction into the family system can wreak havoc on its normal functioning and can often completely tear things apart.  Often then, communication breaks down and defense mechanisms, such as suppressing of feelings, rationalizing, intellectualizing, withdrawing, acting-out, self-medicating, and over-controlling, are used in response to the confusion and chaos caused by the addiction.  These are just a few of the things that can happen actually, there are many others.

Hopefully this new era of finally being able to treat babies who are addicted to drugs and alcohol will really catch on.  It is to a degree a must if the nation is going to be able to improve at all in the substance abuse and addiction arena.  This is perhaps one of the most saddening aspects of addiction, and handling it would act as an inspiration to also address the other key aspects of addiction that plague the nation too.

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