A group of Cincinnati hospitals has announced it will test all mothers or their babies for opiates. It is the first program of its kind in the nation, Reuters reports.
The hospitals hope to catch babies at risk of developing the drug-withdrawal syndrome known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Babies exposed to opiates in the womb can experience extreme irritability, poor feeding and diarrhea 48 to 96 hours after birth, the article notes.
The number of babies treated for NAS has almost quadrupled nationally in the last decade, according to a study released in April. Babies born with NAS undergo withdrawal from the addictive drugs their mothers took during pregnancy, such as heroin, oxycodone, morphine or hydrocodone. NAS affected seven babies for every 1,000 admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit in 2004. That number jumped to 27 infants per 1,000 by 2013.
“The key thing we wanted to do is identify these infants early on,” said Dr. Scott Wexelblatt of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Under the program, mothers are asked if they will submit to testing. Most agree, but if they do not, their babies are tested instead. Mothers who test positive are provided with information about opiates, and their babies are kept longer for observation.
Women who test positive are not subject to criminal prosecution in Ohio. In contrast, women using illegal drugs during pregnancy can be prosecuted in Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina, according to Farah Diaz-Tello, a senior staff attorney for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
In Ohio, hospitals reported a 760 percent increase in the number of babies diagnosed with NAS between 2004 and 2013. An average of five drug-dependent babies were hospitalized every day in 2013.