New Research Finds High Newborn Addiction Rates in Northwestern PA

JEFFERSON CO., Pa. (EYT) – According to a new research brief published on Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, Northwestern Pennsylvania has some of the highest rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome in the state.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) as fetal and neonatal addiction and withdrawal as a result of the mother’s dependence on drugs during pregnancy. Infants born with NAS are more likely to suffer complications such as low birth weight, prematurity, difficulty feeding, and respiratory distress. They are also more likely to be admitted to a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and have longer hospital stays.

Although some of the highest rates of infants born with NAS are found in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Jefferson County has one of the lowest rates in the region, with just 12.5 admissions per 1,000 newborn stays in the 2016-17 fiscal year, well below the state average of 15.0 per 1,000 newborn stays. spoke to Susan Ford, Executive Director of Clearfield-Jefferson Drug and Alcohol Commission, about services available to aid in the prevention of NAS in the area.

“We have the neonatal unit here in DuBois, and I know the physicians there do a lot to educate and work through the whole process with women. They’re very proactive,” Ford said.

“As far as resources available, if we have women that come in that are pregnant and on an opiate, we immediately get them hooked up with Medication-Assisted Treatment.”

“Our style is a little different. We don’t have a clinic; we contract with several physicians. People go to their doctor rather than a clinic. We have many residents that work with us, and we’re a mobile unit, so we go into the communities, wherever we can meet the people in need. We’re the only program in the state that does it the way we do.”

Although Jefferson’s rates fall below the state average, many of the surrounding counties have far higher rates. Here are the fiscal 2016-2017 rates per 1,000 newborn stays for counties in northwestern Pennsylvania:

Butler: 19.3
Clarion: 12.1
Crawford: 31.8
Elk: 45.1
Erie: 15.1
Forest: not reported due to low volume
Jefferson: 12.5
Lawrence: 26.8
McKean: 24.4
Mercer: 36.1
Venango County: 41.1
Warren: 13.8

Elk County and Venango County had, respectively, the third and fourth highest rates in the state of Pennsylvania.

Clinton and Tioga Counties have the lowest current rate in Pennsylvania, at just 3.2 per 1,000 newborn stays, while Greene County has the highest rate, with 76.0 per 1,000 newborn stays.

Statewide, the overall rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome in newborns has increased 1096% between the fiscal year 2000-01 and fiscal year 2016-17, from 1.2 to 15.0 per 1,000 newborn stays. There were nearly 2,000 NAS-related newborn stays in Pennsylvania in the 2017 fiscal year.

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