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GAO study examines best ways to treat drug-addicted babies

A just-released study by the Government Accountability Office outlines the federal help which is needed to assist drug addicted-babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. (GAO)

The Government Accountability Office study explores the growing problem of newborns exposed to opioids and other drugs during pregnancy.

It's the first federal study of its kind to examine the best ways to treat what's called "Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome" which is what newborns exposed to opioids experience after birth.

"What I think the report highlights is, we know there's a problem, but how significant the problem is," U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, (R) West Virginia said. "When you look at the increasing amounts of babies that are exposed to drugs it's a frightening number. So, knowing how large the issue is I think is exceedingly important."

West Virginia was one of four states, along with Kentucky, Vermont and Wisconsin, where the GAO visited to learn more about the problem of drug-addicted babies and how to help them. Most infants with NAS are treated in hospitals, usually in the neonatal intensive care unit, while some are referred to private settings like a neonatal withdrawal center with nursery rooms to complete their treatment.

"We also need to study, is the best treatment a hospital setting or a non-hospital setting?" Capito said. "Hoops Children's Hospital and Lily's Place and CAMC and Thomas are certainly working on how to address the issue of drug-exposed babies."

The report gives a number of ways to help mothers and their children, including telling expectant moms about prenatal care and medical resources available to them. It also suggests educating health care providers on screening and treating NAS. Additionally, the GAO addresses the stigma faced by pregnant women who use drugs that keeps them from getting treatment.

"As a mother myself and a grandmother I find it discouraging, quite frankly," Capito said. "But, you know, I can't hide my head in the sand and say the problem doesn't exist. We've got to give these little ones a chance and that's what this is all about."

The study was the result of efforts by Capito and W.Va. Representative Evan Jenkins, (R) Third District. Both have been strong supporters of Lily's Place, a Huntington facility which assists mothers and newborns addicted to drugs

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