Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Researchers study how neonatal abstinence syndrome affects babies and their communities in the long term

The opioid epidemic has triggered a rise in neonatal abstinence syndrome, in which babies of addicted mothers are born suffering from withdrawal. Health care specialists know how to treat NAS at birth and relieve withdrawal symptoms for both mother and child, but the long-term effects of the condition are well understood. So, researchers are attempting to learn more about the impact of NAS on health care, schools, and communities as a whole, as well as how early intervention can help, reports for Ohio Valley Resource, a public-radio project in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

Ohio University and Nationwide Children's Hospital have established an NAS clinic in Athens, Ohio, to learn more about the long-term effects of NAS, as well as how prenatal exposure to different drugs affects development. "Ohio University is also a part of the Ohio River Valley Addiction Research Consortium, a group of colleges and universities, along with health professionals, law enforcement, social workers and advocates" that is currently studying NAS, Aaron Payne reports.

The Ohio Valley is fertile ground for researching NAS: More than 16,000 babies have born with the condition over the past five years in the radio project's three states. West Virginia has one of the highest rates in the nation; more than 5 percent of babies born there in 2017 had NAS.

It can be difficult to determine cause and effect with NAS, since "health experts can’t say for sure if developmental delays can be attributed to drug exposure, other factors, or genetics," Payne reports. Still, there are clear trends. A recent study in Tennessee "analyzed close to 7,200 children aged 3 to 8 enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program," Payne reports. "That study found 1 in 7 children with a history of opioid exposure in the womb required services for developmental delays."

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