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PHC4 Report Underscores the Need for Additional Resources to Address Opioid Epidemic

March 28, 2018

During 2016, 13 Pennsylvanians died each day from opioid overdoses—a rate four times higher than traffic accident deaths during the same time period. While hospitals across the commonwealth have worked with state and local governments and organizations to coordinate a response to the opioid crisis, Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of drug overdoses in the country. The crisis touches all populations, even Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable patients: newborns.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) today released a research brief about the rise in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) hospital stays in Pennsylvania. NAS is a combination of clinical symptoms exhibited by a newborn as a result of the sudden withdrawal of fetal exposure to a substance, in this case opioids, which was used or abused by the mother.

In part, PHC4 reported that during fiscal year (FY) 2017, Pennsylvania hospitals saw more than 1,900 newborn stays related to NAS, and cases of NAS have spiked 1,000 percent since FY 2000. Newborns with NAS also experienced longer hospital stays and higher rates of complications including premature birth, low birth weight, difficulty feeding, and respiratory distress.

“This report underscores a heartbreaking reality of an already devastating opioid crisis,” said Michael Consuelos, M.D., HAP’s senior vice president, clinical integration. “Newborns with NAS have no way of articulating their symptoms, so it is up to the health care community to provide the best possible care for our smallest patients and their families.”

Dr. Consuelos, a pediatrician, emphasized the importance of treating substance use disorder and NAS as serious medical conditions that require an individualized course of care for each patient. These care plans often integrate physical and behavioral health and, in the case of NAS, include resources specifically geared toward helping families deal with the long-term developmental effects that their children can encounter later in life.

Pennsylvania hospitals are working as key partners with state and local government and community organizations to prevent substance use disorder (which reduces the frequency of NAS), to educate the public about the dangers of opioid misuse, and to care for patients. Hospitals are engaging in a variety of industry-wide and facility-specific initiatives to help address the opioid epidemic, including leading warm handoff and drug takeback programs, implementing prescription guidelines, and integrating behavioral health services into care plans.

“Pennsylvania’s hospital community is committed to continuing its development of collaborative, interdisciplinary care models to help families get the care they need to recover with dignity; however, hospitals cannot accomplish this alone,” said Andy Carter, HAP’s president and CEO. “HAP calls on state and federal policymakers to continue to fund research of substance use disorder and NAS; ensure sustainable funding for behavioral health care; and, provide support for resources, staffing, and care coordination for mothers and infants with NAS to allow all patients to access the right care, in the right place, at the right time.”

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