COLUMBUS: Ohio plans to start a program to help babies who are born addicted to drugs, as officials look to address prescription drug abuse and opiate addiction.
About 200 mothers and babies who are addicted to painkillers and heroin would get treatment and counseling under the $4.2 million, three-year pilot program, Gov. John Kasich’s administration announced Thursday.
Ohio has launched efforts in recent years to crack down on illegal prescription painkiller use and distribution, including changing guidelines for emergency room doctors and closing clinics where doctors were improperly prescribing drugs.
Overdose drug deaths have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio and several other states.
Ohio has seen a spike in the number of drug-addicted babies, state data shows. In 2011, Ohio had 88 cases per 10,000 live births. That’s more than six times the rate in 2004, which was 14 per 10,000 live births.
The latest program is expected to curb the costs of specialized care for the newborns by helping the mothers get drug treatment and cutting down on the babies’ length of hospital stays in the intensive care unit.
Babies born to mothers who are addicted to painkillers or other opiates experience neonatal abstinence syndrome. Their symptoms include drug withdrawal, respiratory complications, feeding difficulties and sometimes even seizures.
The symptoms can be uncomfortable for an adult. But for newborns who likely have low-birth weights, the nausea and dehydration can be life-threatening, said Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Caring for the drug-addicted newborns and mothers, who are often on Medicaid, can be costly to the system.
Health care expenses associated with treating babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome topped $70 million in 2011, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. There were roughly five hospital admissions per day in 2011. And the average length of a hospital stay for newborns with the syndrome is between 14 and 20 days.
Expectant mothers in the state’s new program would undergo a combination of counseling and medication-assisted treatment for their addictions, along with additional help to prevent relapses after the babies are born.
“By these women being in treatment and receiving medication-assisted therapy, we know what they’re taking,” Hurst said. “And we can appropriately treat the children for withdrawal. And that in and of itself decreases the hospital stay by about 30 percent.”
State officials are using a combination of federal and Ohio dollars to pay for the pilot. They expect to save about $1.8 million from the reduction of hospital time for the infants.
Hurst said most of the mothers have tenuous housing arrangements and lack a good support system for recovery.
That’s why a portion of the project’s money will go toward housing vouchers for women who need short-term transitional housing as well as transportation or brief baby-sitting for medical and treatment appointments.
Hospitals, drug treatment centers and other providers will get a chance to apply to participate in the program at the end of the year. The state will then pick two or three sites for the project.
Mothers and babies will start getting help by early 2014, the administrations said.