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Born Addicted

Babies suffering amid opioid crisis

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University Shown is a child born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. A report released Friday by the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate shows that nearly 500 infants in Granite State hospitals were monitored for opioid withdrawal symptoms during the last year.

NASHUA – Many victims of New Hampshire’s ongoing opioid epidemic have never even willingly taken heroin, fentanyl or OxyContin.

A report released Friday by the state’s Office of the Child Advocate indicates that nearly 500 infants in Granite State hospitals were monitored for opioid withdrawal symptoms from July 2018 to September 2019. Even though these children never took opioids, they were born as addicts because their parents did so.

Furthermore, the report found that in the year 2018 alone, the Division for Children, Youth and Families removed 119 children classified as “born drug exposed” from New Hampshire homes for reports of abuse or neglect.

“It is our shared responsibility to ensure that children with complex health and social needs are provided the support and treatment they need,” Gov. Chris Sununu told the Associated Press in reacting to the report on Friday.

The Office of the Child Advocate spent nearly a year reviewing how the state Division of Children, Youth and Families supports such infants and their families. It found numerous promising practices, including the hiring of a specialized caseworker in the DCYF office that covers two dozen communities in southern New Hampshire.

In Concord, there’s a regional perinatal community collaborative that brings together DCYF workers, health care providers and others to share knowledge, policy and practice.

Some common examples of opioids include:

• Heroin

• Fentanyl

• Codeine

• Hydrocodone

• Oxycodone

• Oxymorphone

• Morphine

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the short term, opioids can relieve pain and make people feel relaxed and happy. However, opioids can also have harmful effects, including:

• Drowsiness

• Confusion

• Nausea

• Constipation

• Euphoria

• Slowed breathing

• Hypoxia, which can result in brain damage or death.

Moira O’Neill, director of the Office of the Child Advocate, said, although opioids are a primary focus, too many children are being born with exposure to alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.

O’Neill said her office has received notification of 18 DCYF critical incident reports involving children who were born exposed to substances. Though the incidents were often unrelated to the substance-exposed birth, the office suspected a pattern of risk among children born exposed, which prompted a review to discern if DCYF was adequately addressing the problem.

“The problem is inconsistency with these initiatives,” O’Neill said regarding efforts to correct the problems in the state’s 11 DCYF districts. “Only one DCYF district has a specialist. Only one district partners with a community collaborative; and although there is a parent partner program in every district, DCYF staff identified the need for more partners to strengthen family engagement.”

“We have identified these themes in other reviews: inconsistent practice from district to district, barriers to communication, inter-professional unfamiliarity, bias, and knowledge deficit, in this case, related to substances and their impact on children,” O’Neill added.