Lawmakers and health officials meet to discuss increased use of heroin during pregnancy and thus, more addicted babies

Health officials and lawmakers met at the University of Kentucky Hospital Aug. 10 to discuss the increasing use of heroin among pregnant women and how this has caused a huge increase in the number of babies being born addicted to the drug.

“The number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome continues to increase, which speaks to the issue of the amount of opioid dependence that’s present in our population right now,” Dr. Lon Hays, chair of UK’s Department of Psychiatry, told the lawmakers, Mike Linden reports for WKYT.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, is the term used for babies who are born addicted to the drug or drugs that its mother took during pregnancy, causing the child to suffer from withdrawal after it is born. Dr. Henrietta Bada, UK pediatrics professor, said that she estimates it costs taxpayers $65,000 on average for the hospital to treat babies with NAS, Linden reports.

Kentucky hospitalizations for drug-dependent newborns increased 48 percent between 2013 and 2014, from 955 to 1,409 respectively, according to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. In 2000, there were only 28.

“Whenever I would make rounds on the unit at Samaritan up until two years ago, I would hear about oxycodone,” Hays told the legislative panel, Stu Johnson reports for WEKU-FM in Richmond.”I would hear about hydrocodone. I would rarely ever hear the word heroin. When I made rounds on call the week before last, any woman that I saw mentioned heroin.”

Several of the speakers noted the importance of follow-up care, not only for the baby, but also for the mother, saying there are good protocols in place for opiod abuse, unlike other drugs, Johnson reported.

“If you have a good environment and the mothers are treated, then you will have a better outcome,” Bada said. “But if you have a mother who’s treated, and then the environment is still lousy or bad, then you cannot see an improvement.”

The group met as part of a committee created to oversee implementation and enforcement of the anti-heroin law passed by the 2015 General Assembly.
The governor’s office recently announced that Kentucky was one of 11 states chosen to get a $3 million, three-year federal grant to provide expanded substance abuse treatment for pregnant and postpartum women in the Bluegrass and Cumberland regions of the state.
The state has also allotted $1 million to be used for neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is part of a $10 million appropriation of money approved in the heroin bill.

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