Drug Free Manatee has formed a new taskforce dedicated to reducing the number of babies born in Manatee County with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), or opioid dependency.

In the wake of the opioid crisis, five times more babies are born with this condition than were 10 years ago. That means one NAS baby is born every 30 minutes in the U.S., and the care associated with their condition results in a $1.5 billion annual price tag.

These babies have a hard time adjusting in their new environment due to symptoms from their opioid withdrawal, which they go through after birth and which can include: convulsions, tremors, fever, poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and disturbed sleep.

Neonatal medical staff from Manatee Sarasota Counties who attended previous NAS taskforce meetings have described NAS in detail, emphasizing the pain and suffering the babies experience during their drug withdrawal.

Despite this shocking trend, as of 2016, only 19 states had drug treatment programs specifically targeting pregnant women with only 12 providing expecting mothers priority access to state-funded drug treatment programs. Currently the standard treatment option has been to give pregnant women suffering from opioid addiction medication assisted treatment (MAT), (usually methadone), which does not always alleviate the risk of NAS.

Not all of babies suffering from NAS are born to mothers who are using illegal drugs. In fact, of the babies born with NAS, two thirds are born to mothers using legal prescription drugs.

The taskforce hopes to address these issues by advocating for the following:

  • Require doctors who prescribe opioids to utilize Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)
  • Require universal substance abuse screens for women of child-bearing age
  • Advocate for “supervised withdrawal” as opposed to MAT in pregnant women suffering from addiction
  • Require long-term family planning options be provided to substance abuse disorder (SUD) women in multiple settings

The  next NAS taskforce will meeting will take place Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 at 1 p.m. in the Manatee Room at the Manatee County Administration Building 1112 Manatee Ave. W. Bradenton 34205.