Here we go, another Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome story with a headline reinforcing the stigma of addiction. The latest is WSAW-TV’s headline, “Almost 60 babies born addicted every year in area hospitals”.
Babies are not addicts or born addicted. Addiction is a disease characterized by relapse, compulsive drug-seeking, and continued use despite harmful consequences. Babies do not seek or choose to use drugs. Instead, they are substance-exposed, and those suffering from severe withdrawal have neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS.
Calling babies substance-exposed instead of addicts isn't about wordsmithing or political correctness. Instead, it's a proven first step to improve care. Consider the improved outcomes reported in the groundbreaking Ohio study on NAS newborns that started with the training of nurses and doctors in non-judgmental care to reduce stigma. Reinforcing the study, our Department of Health & Human Services Five point strategy to combat the opioid crisis emphasizes the need "to eliminate the stigma associated with the disease."
This difference is significant because it can help reduce enormous costs. Ohio reports hospital charges $65,127 on average for every NAS baby compared to $17,812 for all other births. Adding to the expense a new study indicates NAS babies experience long-term developmental delays. Medicaid covers more than 80% of these cases. Costs paid for by taxpayers, including a growing number of working families using Medicaid because the deductibles on their employer-provided health insurance are too high.
We want substance-exposed babies and their mothers to recover better and at a lower cost. So, let's follow the lead of our physicians, nurses, and leaders and use the right words to reduce stigma and the consequences of our opioid epidemic.