September 4, 2013
Nine Tristate area hospitals have begun or will this week begin universal drug testing to combat a growing epidemic of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) – babies born addicted to drugs. Other birthing centers in the region also plan to implement this program soon. The Greater Cincinnati area has seen a fivefold increase in NAS over the past five years, and hospital representatives from throughout the region are partnering together in a new way to help identify and care for these babies.
Across the Tristate area, the number of babies being born dependent on drugs has more than tripled to 36 per 1,000 births in 2012 compared to 11 per 1,000 births in 2009.
The Greater Cincinnati Health Council, an organization that works with hospitals in the region, and its member hospitals joined together to identify strategies to best serve these babies. One outcome was consensus to implement universal drug testing of mothers during intake to the maternity ward before delivery. Positive tests alert hospitals that a newborn may suffer from NAS after delivery, and it enables hospitals to immediately begin treating the infant. Mothers will be informed of this test and other lab tests performed before delivery and as with any medical procedure, have the right to refuse.
“Universal testing is designed to help the family, the mother and the infant. It ensures that the hospital can monitor the infant after birth and provide the appropriate care if the infant begins to show withdrawal symptoms,” said Scott Wexelblatt, MD, medical director of Regional Newborn Services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Infants exposed to any narcotic in utero are at risk for NAS, which is characterized by excessive crying, abnormal muscle tone, feeding difficulties and even seizures in some cases due to narcotic withdrawal following delivery. These symptoms often appear 2-7 days after delivery.
After prenatal narcotic exposure, 41 to 94 percent of newborns require extended hospitalization for treatment. Proper early diagnosis of these infants permits timely, effective and efficient treatment. Undiagnosed, asymptomatic infants sent home after delivery can suffer lethal consequences due to the extreme challenges associated with their proper care. Additionally, the cost of treating babies with NAS is substantially higher, up to five and a half times more than the cost of treating babies without NAS.
“One of our main goals with this program is to identify and implement the best practice of care for this group of infants,” said Dr. Wexelblatt who is working with leaders from five other children’s hospitals in the state at the request of Gov. Kasich to address this issue.
These are the Tristate hospitals that have implemented universal drug testing: Fort Hamilton Hospital,
Highland District Hospital, Mercy Health – Anderson Hospital, Mercy Health – Fairfield Hospital, St. Elizabeth Edgewood, The Christ Hospital, TriHealth’s Bethesda North Hospital, TriHealth’s Good Samaritan Hospital and UC Health – University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
The Greater Cincinnati Health Council is a widely recognized association that provides a unique forum where hospital and health care leaders connect to create a stronger health care community. For more than 50 years, the Council has served as a trusted voice on hospital and health care issues for the Tristate region.