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Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Grant Leading to Promising Results

Over the past several years, the number of babies being treated for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) at Lawrence General has been slowly on the rise, and up to 30 cases are expected in 2017. To better serve these patients, Lawrence General received a $250,000 grant from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission last fall to expand and enhance services for these vulnerable newborns and their families. 

“Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is a condition caused when a newborn suffers from opioid withdrawal after birth,” says NAS project director Dan Hale, MD. “It is most often caused when a mother takes illicit opioids during pregnancy, but can also be associated with opioids prescribed to treat addiction such as Methadone.” The symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome vary for each baby, but often include body shakes, seizures, overactive reflexes, fussiness, excessive crying, poor feeding, slow weight gain, and breathing problems. 

Since receiving the health policy grant, Dr. Hale and NAS program coordinator Heather Topp, MSW, LCSW, have been busy rolling out several new initiatives focused on increasing parent-baby interactions and parental presence at the bedside, as well as promoting the benefits of breast feeding and human contact. An expanded volunteer cuddler program is also being developed as is new education for nurses.

“Since expanding our program, we have decreased the length of stay for our NAS babies by more than 50 percent,” says Dr. Hale. “We went from an average stay of four weeks in 2013 to approximately two weeks in 2017.”  This reduction, he says, is due to a greater focus on engaging families in the care of their newborns and encouraging more breast feeding, which is particularly beneficial to this patient population. Studies show that when mothers are close at hand, infants in withdrawal require less medication and fewer costly days in the hospital.

Starting this fall, Lawrence General will also be offering new training for nurses focused on the epidemiology of the opioid epidemic, screening of patients for opioid addiction and misuse, and the need for sensitivity and privacy for these patients in the hospital. Training for other clinical staff is being planned for the future.


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