Doctor’s Note: Substance-Exposed Infant Awareness

I am deeply concerned with the opioid addiction crisis in Virginia. This epidemic is real and everywhere across the Commonwealth, even in the newborn nursery. In the past year alone, there has been a 21% increase in the number of children exposed to drugs in utero. It’s a hard start in life, and among all the other things we are doing and need to do to battle this addiction, we must take special care to help these innocent babies. Awareness is an important first step to providing solutions. This session I am introducing a bill to create a Substance Exposed Infant Awareness Week during the first week of July (July 1-7).

Medical teams need increased awareness too, so that we can identify moms in need of help and support and babies at risk for withdrawal because it can be hard to diagnose addiction. I have been working with physicians, The Hospital Association and the Virginia Department of Health to set up a Perinatal Quality Collaborative (PQC).

A PQC is a problem-solving team of doctors who work together to improve outcomes for babies and moms across the state. They do this by looking at problems, in this case Substance Exposed Infants, which is clinically called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). NAS occurs in a newborn who was exposed to opiates while in the mother’s womb. The physicians agree on how to treat them and put in place those best practices in every hospital. Currently, 41 other states have already done this and they have had great success. Ohio, for example, has had many successes with their PQC initiative since it first launched in 2014, including:

·       Providing evidence-based, compassionate care for over 5,000 infants

·       Decreased length of hospital stay for babies diagnosed with NAS

·       Increased compliance with their non-pharmacologic bundle from 37 to 59%

These doctors are volunteers who meet because they know by working together across the state we can make big things happen. PQC’s are funded mostly by grants, but seed money is needed to get started and begin the grant writing process. I have requested $124,000 to be included in the state budget to help set up this important program in Virginia. With that they can show the infrastructure needed to be eligible for private and CMS grants for PQC’s. The work will not stop with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). The PQC will continue to identify other clinical issues that, if addressed, can improve outcomes for moms and babies across Virginia.

I believe this is a good investment for Virginia.

The Richmond Times Dispatch recently featured an article about the state’s opioid crisis and substance-exposed infants, which you can read here.