NYS Exposed: Local counties seeing increase in drug-related diagnosis for newborns

September 18, 2017 07:27 PM

The reach of the growing opioid epidemic touches every corner of our area and that impact touches some of the most vulnerable in our community: Babies still in their mother's womb.

"Babies can have actual withdrawal from the medications that moms are taking," says Suzanne Mullin, the pediatric director of Mother-Baby Unit at Rochester General Hospital. "Opioids, we see the most dramatic effects."


It's a national trend, but Suzanne Mullin at Rochester General Hospital says they're seeing the dramatic increase in our area.

"We have been seeing an increase in numbers of specifically opioid dependency in this hospital," said Mullin. "And we are the referral center for a lot of local hospitals, so we see those babies as well from a lot of outside counties."

According to the latest statistics from the New York State Department of Health, Wayne, Monroe, Genesee and Orleans counties all rank in the top fifteen for drug-related diagnosis for newborns. Orleans County has the fifth highest percentage in New York State -- 125 percent higher than the state average.

"Once moms become pregnant, it's more of a challenge and we deal with birth defects and things like that, that hopefully can be avoided if moms were getting treated beforehand," said Mullin.

Mullin says newborns born with drug addiction can have trouble eating, have intense irritability, could even have seizures as a result of withdrawal from opioids.

"When you see babies that go through this, the possibility for long-term effects, developmental delays, that sort of thing is overwhelming," said Senator Catharine Young.

At the state level, Senator Catharine Young sponsored legislation this year that would start to address the problem. It would require hospitals to screen all newborns for drug addiction.

"Often times the mother will not tell the doctors that she had been using and as a result the newborn usually doesn't present any symptoms of withdrawal for 24 to 72 hours, long after the baby has been sent home."

Senator Young says newborns are currently screened for about 40 different disorders at birth, but not drug addiction. She believes adding this one test could guarantee those children get the help they'll need -- help that could save their lives.

"Also, maybe there are intervention actions that need to occur to make sure that that baby is well taken care of," said Young.

"There are other options and there are treatment programs that they can get into that could save them and their babies down the road," Mullin adds.

Senator Young's legislation passed in the state Senate last year, but still needs a sponsor in the Assembly. We'll continue to follow the legislation when the Assembly is back in session in January.


Jennifer Mobilia

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