Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson (Capital-Star Screen Capture).
Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson traveled to Crawford County on Friday to talk to healthcare providers about data and supporting resources for children born with opioid dependence.
“All parents and families may face unique challenges as they bring a baby into the world – and welcoming a child experiencing withdrawal may be one of them,” Johnson told attendees at a symposium on an affliction known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS, is a condition in which infants who were exposed to medications or drugs – including opioids – during pregnancy experience withdrawal symptoms.
NAS can cause low birth weights and other complications requiring longer-than-normal hospitalization for infants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The overall NAS incidence rate in Pennsylvania is 11.9 cases per 1,000 live births, according to the Department of Health’s 2021 Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome report.
The same annual report found that infants with NAS were more than twice as likely (19 percent) to have low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams or 5.5 lbs) compared to all infants born statewide in 2018 (8 percent).
In Crawford County, where the symposium was held, the overall NAS incidence rate is 26.3 cases per 1,000 live births.
Between January 2018 and March 2022, Pennsylvania logged 7,155 cases of NAS, according to state data.
The state Department of Health has been monitoring NAS cases statewide since Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2018 Opioid Disaster Declaration made opioid-related NAS a “reportable condition” under state law.
The purpose of the monitoring program is to provide data to “state and local responders to identify high incidence areas for targeted intervention to reduce the burden of NAS in the state,” according to the department’s report.
“The Wolf administration will continue working tirelessly to combat the opioid epidemic and ensure [that] supports and resources are available for pregnant people, newborns and families to lower the risk and effects of those who are exposed during pregnancy,” Johnson said.
The department has also partnered with the Northwestern Pennsylvania Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Coalition and the Ohio Perinatal Quality Collaborative to create an educational tool kit for families affected by NAS.
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