Today, the United States is facing an opioid epidemic. The number of pregnant women using heroin, opioids, or methadone has increased more than 5 times the rate since 2000. As a result, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every 25 minutes a baby is born with opioid withdrawals in the United States. This is a dramatic increase from hospitals only seeing one or two Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome cases a year.
When a woman is pregnant and using opioids, the substance can pass through the placenta causing the fetus to develop a physical drug dependence. Once the baby is born they are removed from the drug supply causing them to go through withdrawals. The symptoms associated with these withdrawals may include excessive crying, vomiting, sleep problems and muscle cramps.
The treatment for babies in withdrawal is fairly simple. They receive small doses of methadone or morphine to wean them from their addiction. Treatment for withdrawals is far less intensive and technical than other newborns in an intensive care unit suffering from other life-threatening conditions. However, due to the rise in opioid use, opioid addicted newborns are taking up a majority of the space in the neonatal intensive care units in many hospitals.
After many efforts, the community of Huntington, West Virginia believes to have found the solution to free up Hospital Intensive Care Units and save taxpayer money. Huntington is far too familiar with the opioid epidemic having an opioid overdose death rate of 10 times the national average.
The first attempt to find a solution came in 2012 when the city’s hospital, Cabell Huntington Hospital, created a separate newborn therapy unit just to treat withdrawal symptoms. Babies with withdrawals do not require the same high-tech equipment and therefore the newborn therapy unit was able to cut cost in half when compared to the treatment received in the neonatal intensive care unit.
On October 1, 2014, Huntington opened the first transitional therapy center in the country called Lily’s Place. The goal of the center is to eventually allow parents to have the ability to take care of their babies at home, while the baby is still receiving treatment over a period of 3-6 weeks.
The center is run by the same doctors and nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital, social workers, nurses, and administrative staff. Typically, opioid addicted babies are safely able to leave the hospital after 2 weeks. From the hospital they are sent to Lily’s Place to continue treatment and observation.
The center is set up with 15 private nurseries that allow parents to visit throughout the day and occasionally spend the night. While babies are receiving treatment, the center’s social workers help parents and family members prepare to welcome the newborns home. Babies may continue to experience withdrawal symptoms for several months and the center trains family members on care techniques to be continued when released.
Social workers also help parents or family members find jobs, housing, addiction treatment, and financial help if necessary. Once the babies are completely weaned off of the small doses of methadone they are released to the trained parents or family members. The center continues to observe the family’s status by visiting the home every month.
Lily’s Place has been seen as a model for other communities and over 30 groups across the country are hoping to replicate the center in their own communities. To help with starting a neonatal abstinence center, Lily’s Place created a how-to book titled “How to Create a Neonatal Withdrawal Center”. The second center of its kind is set to open in April 2017 in Dayton, Ohio.
The road was not always smooth for Lily’s Place. At first, in order to be recognized as a certified medical center, Lily’s Place had to be classified as a long-term care center for the elderly and disabled. With the support of U.S. Representative, Evan Jenkins, who at the time represented Huntington on the State Legislature, HB 2999 was passed which created a new licensing designation for Neonatal Abstinence Centers.
Jenkins also supported the Comprehensive Recovery and Addiction Treatment Act which included a provision that called upon the government to smooth the regulatory path for communities to have the opportunity to open facilities similar to Lily’s Place. Additionally in order to help with funding, Jenkins is working to negotiate with U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to get approval for Neonatal Abstinence Centers to receive reimbursement through Medicaid.
Christine Vestal, Caring for the opioid epidemic’s youngest victims, L?? A?????? T???? (Oct. 11, 2016), http://www.latimes.com/nation/sns-tns-bc-opioids-infants-20161011-story.html.
L???’? P????: I????? R??????? C?????, http://www.lilysplace.org/.