NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- It is a problem affecting the smallest and most innocent victims: babies born addicted to opiates. Now, there is a new group focused on saving those babies and helping their mothers. It is called the Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative.
Last year, we brought you inside Sentara Norfolk General, where nurses told us at least one baby is born every day addicted to drugs. Now those nurses will have new tools from a group of doctors, clinicians and hospital workers coming together to help babies, who are born addicted.
Their cries pierce a room. The pain is palpable in the shrieks of a newborn going through withdrawal.
They are the innocent victims of the heroin epidemic, children who have done nothing to cause their own suffering.
According to state data, just last year more than 700 babies in Virginia alone were born with something called "Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome." It means these newborns are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, because they were exposed to drugs during the mother's pregnancy.
“We often see symptoms such as weight loss, poor feeding, poor growth,” described Dr. Joseph El Khoury, the Director of Neonatal Transport at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. “They can have irritability and restlessness.”
Experts said Wednesday those mothers often put their babies' lives at risk.
“Addicted parents have decreased abilities to do things like show up for doctor's appointments, to make plans for the children and it's very important to try to capture them to help them to get over these problems,” explained Dr. Lisa Ann Andruscavage, a neonatologist at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and Director of the hospital’s Neonatal Abstinence Clinic.
Until recently, Virginia has been one of the largest states without a formal collaborative working group to combat this issue. Stakeholders are hoping this announcement changes outcomes for these families.
“Pregnancy and prenatal care become a window of opportunity, a time for treatment and a time to affect positive behavioral change and we know that treatment works,” Dr. Mishka Terplan, a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine Professor, added.
The formation of the group comes right before Substance Exposed Infant Awareness Week in Virginia, which is marked the first week of July.