October is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Awareness Month

By Melinda Kingery - Contributing columnist

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) has skyrocketed in Ohio along with the epidemic of opioid addiction. NAS refers to cases in which newborns are “born addicted” (meaning they experience drug withdrawal shortly after birth due to drug exposure in the womb). Nearly 2,000 newborns had been diagnosed with NAS by the time they left Ohio hospitals in 2017. October is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Awareness Month. It is a month dedicated to the work of increasing awareness of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and what help is out there for those impacted by it.

The most common cause of NAS is a woman taking opioids during pregnancy. This includes mothers who are receiving treatment for pain or addiction and those misusing prescription medications.

The medications that can cause NAS include opioids (painkillers such as codeine, morphine or oxycodone), Benzodiazepines (to help with anxiety or sleep), Barbiturates (sedatives), Antidepressants, illicit drugs such as cocaine or heroin, and Methadone or buprenorphine (used in medication-assisted treatment).

Treating babies with NAS is costly. Not only are their lives presented the challenges and difficulties of NAS itself, but it is expensive monetarily. The care of babies born with NAS costs six times more than the care of those born without. This is due to many factors, including longer hospital stays, higher monitoring costs, medications and health problems that continue after being discharge.

In July 2019, an Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities rule change made NAS and high blood lead level automatic qualifiers for Early Intervention services. Now, infants and toddlers do not necessarily have to show signs of disability or delay due to those conditions before they qualify. This allows for the baby and family to receive supports sooner.

The Early Intervention Program serves infants and toddlers ages birth to three years old who have a disability or delay in their development. These delays could be in the area of speech and language, cognitive development, motor skills, social-emotional, or self-help skills. This program provides services and supports to children and their families.

Early Intervention services include a developmental evaluation and family coaching which takes place in the home or other natural community setting with a Developmental Specialist. This program operates with the understanding that the child’s family is their best teacher. The Developmental Specialist helps the family learn ways to support their child’s development.

Referrals in Ohio can be made by calling 1-800-755-GROW (4769) or online at https://ohioearlyintervention.org. This referral site will take the family’s information and can refer a child for services to either the Early Intervention program or the Help Me Grow Home Visiting program. Referrals can come from the family, physician, other involved agencies.

The Gallia County Board of Developmental Disabilities can also be contacted for assistance at 740-446-6902. In Gallia County, Tina Ragland, LSW, and Britt Higginbotham serve as Developmental Specialists ready to assist those attempting to navigate the challenges of a child dealing with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Amy Thompson, Service Coordinator at the Gallia County Board of DD, can also be reached at 740-444-7628

By Melinda Kingery

Contributing columnist

Melinda Kingery of the Gallia DD Board, wrote this on behalf of the Gallia County Citizens for Prevention and Recovery.

Melinda Kingery of the Gallia DD Board, wrote this on behalf of the Gallia County Citizens for Prevention and Recovery.