Among the victims of the current opiate epidemic are an increasing number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), born to addicted mothers. A newly released study in Indiana has shed more light on the problem. The study data indicates the state has a higher number of babies’ umbilical cords testing positive for opiates than the national average.
The study examined nearly 3,000 umbilical cords from 21 hospitals in the state. The data showed that one in seven—or 14.37 percent—tested positive for opiates. The national average is 10.8 percent.
In January, 2016, the state created the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome pilot program to study the prevalence of NAS through voluntary screenings with hospitals. The program began at four sites and has now expanded to include 29 hospitals. Pregnant woman arriving at one of the hospitals for delivery are given a standardized and validated verbal screening. If the woman tests positive at any point, medical staff will request that the woman consent to a urine toxicology screening.
“Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is basically when a baby is born to a mom who has been using substances,” State Health Commissioner Kris Box, M.D., told a meeting of the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana. “Often, that is opiates, and after that baby is separated from the mom, the baby goes through a series of withdrawal symptoms associated with not having that drug in its system any longer.”
The effects of NAS can include excessive, high-pitched crying, irritability, feeding difficulties and a failure to thrive. While the long-term effects of NAS remain largely unknown, some studies have shown it can result in mental and behavioral disorders, poor national test scores and lower IQs.
Of the 19,048 births in 2017 that occurred in the 21 Indiana hospitals that participated in the current data screening, 2,953 umbilical cords were tested and nearly 40 percent of those cords tested positive for a substance. About 11 percent of the cords that tested positive were also given a diagnosis of NAS.
Box said the number of opioid cases were not the only troubling finding in the data. Indiana also had a higher percentage of babies testing positive for barbiturates and cocaine. “I think it’s also really important to note that 14.4 percent of our babies’ cords tested positive for opiates and greater than 18 percent of our babies’ cords tested positive for marijuana,” she told The Statehouse File.com. “That’s why I have extreme concerns about some of the marijuana legislation that’s going on.”
Legislation that would have approved marijuana for medical needs failed in the first half of the session. However, the Indiana Senate has approved its version of legislation that would legalize the sale of CBD oil, or cannabidiol, to any state resident who wants it. Senate Bill 52 would legalize CBD oil that contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the substance in the plant that gives marijuana users a high. Legislation passed in the 2017 session limited the use of CBD oil to patients with epilepsy.
Box said research has shown that babies exposed to marijuana suffer from impulsive behavior, hyperactivity, anxiety, depression and deficits in learning and memory. Because the program is voluntary and not statewide, Box said she believed those numbers under-represent the incidence of NAS in Indiana.
The Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana is a statewide commission created in 2013, to improve the status of children in Indiana.
On February 21, Senate Bill 52 unanimously passed through a House committee, signaling another step toward the legalization of CBD oil in Indiana. Senate Bill 52 defines “low THC hemp extract” as a product containing no more than 0.3 percent THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and no other controlled substances.
CBD, or cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive derivative of the cannabis plant, is used to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders. The bill would legalize the sale of products made with no more than 0.3 percent THC.
SB 52 is one of multiple bills that would legalize CBD and hemp oil legalization being considered by the Indiana General Assembly.