Efforts To Reduce Cases Of Pregnant Addicts, Drug-Dependent Newborns Continues

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By ideastream’s Brian Bull

Over the past five years, hospitals in the Cleveland area have seen an increase in opiate addicted pregnant women.  WCPN went to University Hospitals to learn about efforts to reduce the number of infants born dependent on drugs. 

Doctor Michele Walsh says she’s seen a “staggering” number of newborns addicted to prescription drugs or heroin.  She’s Chief of the Division of Neonatology for U-H’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.  She’s worked with 52 newborn intensive care units across Ohio, namely those with babies in moderate to severely ill condition.

“I’m sorry to tell you that we’ve collectively taken care of over 3600 newborns that needed narcotic treatment for withdrawal,” says Walsh. “That’s 2014 and 2015.  And in Northeast Ohio, we’re beginning to see – we hope – a plateau.  But in the southern part, it’s still on the rise.”

Walsh says health officials try to target addicted women before they get pregnant, or try to get them into treatment afterwards. 

“Most of the women who are narcotic addicted are dependent on public funding,” she says.  “So over 90 percent in Ohio are on Medicaid, and we’ve received a great deal of support from Medicaid and the Office of health transformation at the state level for developing programs.  Both for pilot programs for moms, but also our collaborative for treatment of babies.” 

Meanwhile, U.S. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island have penned bipartisan legislation intended to tackle opiate addiction through treatment and education efforts.

Portman toured Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland today.  He said health officials with University Hospitals helped provide input on the legislation.

“Not just at Rainbow (Babies and Children’s Hospital), but also the people involved in addiction services here, the psychiatry department, so that it actually makes sense to help people who are addicted,” says Portman. 

“We saw babies…tiny, tiny, babies who area already addicted to drugs and they take them through a process of withdrawal, in a humane way, to insure that they can have a healthy life.”

Called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015, the bill aims to bolster monitoring and disposal of prescription drugs, educate people on the dangers of addiction, and expand drug treatment programs.

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