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Listen to the Weekly Message from Governor Paul R. LePage here.
Drug-Dependent Newborns, a Disturbing Trend
Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.
Recently, I read an article about the spike in drug-dependent newborns in the State of Tennessee. The article focuses on a 3 ½ week-old boy born hooked on drugs. He is part of a trend that predicts some 800 drug-dependent babies in Tennessee this year.
What I find most troubling: Maine is about to beat that record.
So far this year, Maine has about 770 drug-dependent or drug-affected newborns. And we are projecting more than 800 by the end of this year.
Babies born with symptoms of withdrawal from drugs is a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. The syndrome occurs most commonly with opiate use — from prescription painkillers to illegal drugs like heroin during pregnancy.
We know that in Maine about half of the children born affected by drug use had a mother who used opioids during pregnancy.
According to a 2012 study from the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh, about one baby is born every hour addicted to opiate drugs in the United States. In Maine, about one in every 12 babies is born drug-affected and we know that both in our State and in the nation, these numbers are under-reported.
The study also points to how costly the problem is. The national average hospital charge for NAS births in 2009 was about $53,000 with state welfare programs covering nearly 80 percent of those charges. In contrast, according to the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in 2009, a regular, uncomplicated birth at a Maine hospital costs an average of $5,900.
However, I want to be clear: more important than cost are the effects to these children. I am deeply concerned about the suffering and long-term consequences these newborns are subjected to.
In order to restore good health to these babies, many go through drug withdrawals, as adults do. I have heard about babies clawing at their faces, having tremors, having trouble eating and becoming dehydrated. The acute withdrawal period can take up to a week.
This is no way to start life.
I am working with Commissioner Mary Mayhew of the Department of Health and Human Services to address this growing problem. The University of Maine and Eastern Maine Medical Center are conducting research and we are looking at how the State of Tennessee is addressing drug-dependent newborns.
This is an issue we ought to all be concerned about and be willing to work together on to find solutions. It is my hope we can reverse this troubling trend, because our children’s future depends on it.
Thank you for listening.
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