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New group aims to prevent babies born hooked on drugs due to opioid crisis

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RICHMOND, Va. -- A baby is born hooked on drugs every 25 minutes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because they were exposed to the drug while in their mother's womb. After birth, those children suffer from withdrawal -- called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

The March of Dimes, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Virginia Section, and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association announced the formation of the new collaborative during a news conference at the Virginia State Capitol, Wednesday morning.

The Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative (VNPC) will include addressing the national opioid crisis and how it impacts pregnant women and their babies.

NAS can happen with a variety of drugs, including some prescription painkillers.

The syndrome can cause low birth weight and other complications that can lead to hospitalization.

A group of Virginia lawmakers and state health experts have created an initiative to try to prevent an increase of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in babies.

Dr. Joseph El Khoury, Medical Director of the Neonatal Transport Team at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU, was one of several speakers from across the Commonwealth.

"Among NAS babies we often see symptoms of weight loss, poor feeding, poor growth, irritability, restlessness, gastrointestinal symptoms, skin irritations and other significant symptoms." Dr. El Khoury said. "When a newborn experiences these symptoms they can have a negative effect on growth and development during that critical phase of growth." 

The collaborative reported the rate of opioid abuse and dependance among pregnant women at the time of the delivery rose 910 percent from 2004 to 2014.

773 Virginia infants out of 95,608 live births in 2016 had an NAS diagnosis, according to the Virginia Impatient Diatabase. The figure is represented of 1 percent of all births in the Commonwealth last year.

The group said they're working with lawmakers in the General Assembly to enact laws that will provide more resources so doctors and healthcare facilities can better treat mothers and their newborns.

Julian Walker, a spokesman for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, said they won't be focusing on criminal repercussions for mothers of newborn's born with opioid withdrawal like seen in some states. Rather, their goal is to better help both mother and baby while in the healthcare facilities.

Funding for the VNPC will be provided when the new fiscal year budget cycle begins on July 1. The announcement coincides with the Substance Exposed Infant Awareness week which takes place the first week of July.

As of July 1, NAS will be on a list of diseases required to be reported, with passage of House Bill 1549. 

You can livestream the news conference here.

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