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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A newly-released study shows the rate of newborns suffering from drug withdrawal has increased by more than 1,000 percent in Pennsylvania.

As stunning as that number is, the Perinatal Hope Program at Allegheny Health Network is seeing promising results when pregnant women receive treatment before delivery.

newborn opioid map Study: Pa. Newborn Drug Withdrawal Cases Up 1,000 Percent Over Last 17 Years

(Photo Courtesy: Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council)

Early treatment is proving critical, according to Deb McDonald, who is the Women’s Health Program Director, at Allegheny Health Network.

“If we can stop that cycle while she’s pregnant, if not prior to pregnancy, I think we have a better chance for these babies all the way around,” said McDonald.

Right now, at Allegheny Health Network, one in four newborn babies is being treated for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which is essentially drug withdrawal.

“They’ll have sweating, high-pitched cries, very tense muscles. They can actually have seizures,” said McDonald, adding that the numbers of babies exposed to drugs while in the womb is even higher.

“All babies born to moms that have a substance abuse disorder stay in the hospital for five days. That way we can watch and make sure they’re not having withdrawal symptoms,” said McDonald.

Two years ago, Allegheny Health Network started the Perinatal Hope Program. It gives addicted expectant mothers help with everything from addiction treatment and medical care to their basic living needs.

“Some of them are looking at, ‘Where am I going to lay my head down today, and am I going to have food to eat or feed my family?’” said McDonald.

The program is already showing progress. According to McDonald, because of the early treatment more than 95 percent of the newborns are not drug dependent and do not need treatment for withdrawal.

“We’re having them on that path, and we’re working with the medications at the right levels that they need to maintain that recovery period,” said McDonald.

The program includes mobile care and deals with every substance use disorder, not just opioid addiction.

“The path to recovery is not an easy path, let alone when you’re pregnant,” said McDonald.

If you would like to enroll, call 412-578-5575.

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