LePage puts spotlight on drug-affected babies

Gov. Paul LePage is calling on Maine to reverse the “disturbing trend” of babies born affected by drug use.
In his weekly radio address, the governor references a recent article he read detailing the problem in Tennessee, a state where 800 babies are expected to be born dependent on drugs this year. “What I find most troubling: Maine is about to beat that record,” LePage said in the address. So far this year, Maine has recorded 770 drug-dependent or drug-affected newborns, with projections for more than 800 by the end of 2013, the governor said.
As we reported in July, Maine already came close to topping that number in 2012, when 779 babies were born “drug affected” in Maine, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s nearly five times the total of 165 babies in 2005.
About half of the children born affected by drug use had a mother who used opioids during pregnancy, LePage goes on to say. He details personal stories he’s heard about babies in withdrawal “clawing at their faces, having tremors, having trouble eating and becoming dehydrated.”
“This is no way to start life,” the governor said in the address.
Secondary to that suffering are the related costs, LePage said. He cites a 2012 University of Michigan study that found in 2009 the national average hospital charge for births involving neonatal abstinence syndrome — a group of symptoms babies experience while withdrawing from exposure to narcotics — was about $53,000, “with state welfare programs covering nearly 80 percent of those charges.” That’s nearly nine times the cost of a typical birth in Maine.
The link to the study in the governor’s press release is broken, but it appears he’s referencing this study, which outlines such costs to state Medicaid programs.
LePage says he’s working with DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew to address the problem, while the University of Maine and Eastern Maine Medical Center are conducting research and the state looks to learn from Tennessee’s response.
“This is an issue we ought to all be concerned about and be willing to work together on to find solutions,” LePage said in concluding his address. “It is my hope we can reverse this troubling trend, because our children’s future depends on it.”

UPDATE: LePage’s office sent along a direct link to the University of Michigan study, which can be viewed here.

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