Missouri babies with opioid withdrawal may be underreported

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — More than 3,700 pregnant women and new mothers were hospitalized in Missouri for opioid abuse in the past two years, according to a new report.

The Missouri Hospital Association research indicates that the number of babies born suffering withdrawal symptoms could be underreported, the St. Louis Post-Dispatchreported. State data had only identified more than 1,080 newborns diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome during 2016 and 2017.

"The existing data didn't correlate well with what clinicians were reporting from the front lines of care," said Herb Kuhn, the association's president.

Babies with the syndrome are more likely to be small and have respiratory issues, feeding problems, jaundice and seizures. Symptoms include diarrhea, shaking, sweating, crying excessively and being difficult to console.

Babies suffering from drug withdrawal symptoms usually stay in the hospital an average of 10 days longer than healthy babies. Related costs for babies with the syndrome average $33,000, compared to $5,000 for healthy babies.

The state Medicaid program covers about 83 percent of delivery costs for babies born in Missouri with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the report found. The births totaled $10 million in Medicaid funding in 2016. Additional health care, social service and education fees after a baby leaves the hospital aren't included in these amounts.

Missouri passed a law this year that extends Medicaid coverage to substance abuse treatment for women up to a year after they give birth.

Providing treatment to low-income, uninsured women of childbearing age with substance use disorder prior to pregnancy could reduce costs of caring for exposed newborns, the report concluded.

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