Special Reports

New program focuses on future of babies born with opioid dependence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- Last March, Eyewitness News took a look at a new family-centered model at Women & Infants Hospital implemented to improve care for opioid-addicted mothers and their babies. Now, some 15 months later, doctors report they are seeing one or two more babies a month who were exposed to drugs in the womb, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. 

However, doctors say they have been able to trim hospital stays and treatment time for these babies. 

"We are actually seeing an overall drop in hospitalization and care that these babies need," Dr. Adam Czynski, the medical director of the newborn nursery at Women & Infants, said.

Dr. Czynski has been collecting data over the last year and called the progress being made "remarkable. "

"We went from 21 days down to 18 days one year ago, and now our length of stay dropped from about 16 days down to 11 in the past year," he said. "We really have carved out or cut off a good portion of hospital care. 

"A lot of these patients are on state support health insurance programs so that is a huge savings to everyone within the state," Dr. Czynski added. "It has also reduced the amount of opiods that these babies need to see after they have been born so they are actually getting more with interventions that do not require medication."

Getting these NAS babies and their mothers healthy and back home sooner is encouraging to the medical staff at Women & Infants, but the care doesn't end there. There is a new program at the Brown Center to further examine babies and to make sure these infants are hitting all of their important developmental milestones. 

Dr. Barry Lester, the director of the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk, said there is very little data available regarding the long-term impacts of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers.

"The new kid on the block and the reason we have seen an escalation of the babies in the past few years that are on paid medication is what population?" he asked. "It is us. The middle class."

Dr. Lester said babies in this groundbreaking program will be screened on a routine basis. The team at the Brown Center will collect important data that could help benefit other moms and babies in the future. 

One local mother, who only wanted to be identified by her first name, Ann Marie, has her young son Sebastian visiting the team at the Brown Center. 

"There really isn't a lot of information out there," she said. "If listening to my baby's cry can help them find a better or easier or quicker way to care for babies, then why not do it?"

Ann Marie also said that right now, Sebastian is hitting his cognitive milestones and his happy, healthy and thriving.

The Brown Center is still looking for more mothers and babies with NAS to participate in its study.


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