Sen. Angus King of Maine and two Senate colleagues introduced a bill Friday that would direct the federal government to examine the rapidly rising rate of children born to opiate-addicted mothers.

In Maine, the number of drug-affected babies has nearly doubled from 526 in 2010 to 995 in 2015. That figure represents 1 in 12, or 8 percent, of the babies born in the state. The problem is worse in some parts of Maine. In 2014, 16 percent of babies whose mothers lived in Penobscot County were born drug-affected, according to state statistics.

“The statistics are heartbreaking,” King said in a statement. “Prevention and treatment are key to curbing that, but when babies are born with (neonatal abstinence syndrome), we have got to ensure they have access to the best our health system has to offer – and that starts by understanding the obstacles that are getting in the way.”

The Nurturing and Supporting Healthy Babies Act, sponsored by King, an independent, Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would order a U.S. Government Accountability Office review to determine the prevalence, how many might be covered by Medicaid, the types of treatment available and the cost of those treatments.

Babies born drug-affected often require specialized care, which means longer hospital stays and increased costs – as much as five times the cost of treating other newborns, according to a recent study. Drug-affected babies require an average hospital stay of 17 days, compared to two for a baby born without opiate dependency. The average cost to treat a baby for an opiate dependency is nearly $67,000. The typical cost of a hospital stay for a healthy newborn is $3,500.

Beyond the cost, babies whose mothers use drugs or abuse alcohol go through the same type of withdrawal an addict does. They are beyond comforting, becoming agitated, tensing their muscles repeatedly and often crying constantly. The babies are treated with morphine or methadone and are gradually weaned off the drugs over about two weeks.

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Maine has encouraged health care providers to screen all women of child-bearing age for substance abuse and make referrals for treatment if necessary, although it can be difficult for both mothers and their fetuses to quit cold turkey.

Some health care providers have adopted specialized programs for women who are pregnant and abusing drugs or alcohol. St Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston has a support program, and the Addiction Resource Center at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick has a program called Healthy Generations.

The Healthy Generations program is designed to move patients toward abstinence from opioids, through integrating access to buprenorphine in combination with skill-based addiction treatments.

The cost of being enrolled in the program ranges from $5,000 to $8,000 per year, per patient. The clinical partnerships and this small medication assisted treatment investment have resulted in a 50-percent cost reduction overall from the national average.

King and Capito had introduced another bill in February to direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to create new guidelines for residential pediatric recovery centers that treat babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 4 p.m. on April 30, 2016, to correct details of the Healthy Generations program.

 

 


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