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Statewide Effort Improves Care of Opioid-Exposed Babies

Standardized compassionate care practices are being used to help babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome in Ohio. (Chris Sternal-Johnson/Flickr)
Standardized compassionate care practices are being used to help babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome in Ohio. (Chris Sternal-Johnson/Flickr)
May 13, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A statewide effort to improve the care of innocent victims of Ohio's opioid epidemic is showing positive results.

The Ohio Perinatal Quality Collaborative is aiming for better birth outcomes and fewer preterm births – Ohio's leading cause of infant mortality.

More than 50 neonatal intensive care units monitored over 9,600 opioid-exposed babies for a five-year period in a project on neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS.

Dr. Carole Lannon, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, says the team focused on compassionate withdrawal treatment and letting the infants spend more time with the mothers.

"By providing this compassionate care, supporting the mothers and the great work of the clinical teams at the hospitals, we were able to reduce both the length of treatment and length of stay by about two days each," she explains.

Lannon says with this approach, fewer babies needed medications for their opioid withdrawal over the five-year project.

It's estimated that in 2015, one child was born every 25 minutes with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and Lannon says that number is steadily increasing.

Lannon explains babies born with NAS experience both emotional and physical symptoms.

"These infants can be more irritable, they can be more difficult to console,” she points out. “You can see trembling, tremors, excessive crying, not sleeping well – some yawning, stuffy nose and sneezing, and a little bit of hyperactivity."

Lannon adds she's pleased with the progress of the collaborative, and says hospitals and doctors are learning from each other to create standardized, evidence-informed care across the state.

"Sadly, Ohio has been one of the states on the leading edge of the opioid epidemic,” she states. “And I think that people are really working hard to try to figure out how to improve care and outcomes for the moms and the babies."

The Ohio Department of Medicaid funded the project. Lannon says further efforts will focus on care during pregnancy and examining long-term outcomes for these infants.

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by The George Gund Foundation.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH