The Trump administration is launching a program to help states care for pregnant women who are using opioids and for their babies who are born dependent on the drugs.
The Maternal Opioid Misuse program, or the "M-O-M model," will work with state Medicaid programs to help set up services for pregnant women who are dependent on opioids and their infants, who can develop condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the new program Tuesday an a Milken Institute event in Washington, D.C. He said the program would ensure "health, wellbeing, and recovery" for women and also protect the health of their children.
Azar, who recently traveled to Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia with first lady Melania Trump, shared stories women had told him about how they became hooked on opioids. One woman became dependent after she was overprescribed the medications following a broken finger. Another woman was given 30 Percocet following surgery to remove her wisdom teeth.
The new program is being launched through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, or CMMI. The office will help support pediatric counseling centers which help to treat neonatal abstinence syndrome. The federal government will pay for the first two years but by the third year it is requesting that states arrange ways for the program to be funded.
Women who use opioids while pregnant can otherwise give birth prematurely or risk miscarriage. The drugs they take to treat their addiction can also lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome, which after birth causes babies to have seizures, cry excessively, have feeding difficulties, sweat, and vomit.
An infant with the condition stays in the hospital for more than two weeks or even for months, compared with the typical two-day stay after birth. The Medicaid program pays for a large amount of the charges for maternal substance misuse, and pays the majority of the $1.5 billion that the U.S. spends to treat neonatal abstinence syndrome.
The most recent government data available on the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome is from six years ago. An estimated 21,732 infants were born with the condition in 2012, a five-fold increase from a dozen years earlier.
[Also read: CDC director calls for destigmatizing addiction to confront opioid crisis]
Health experts have said they need better information on treatment. They say standards for screening and working with pregnant women are key, and that they need more data about which parts of the country have been particularly hard hit. Certain hospitals have protocols for care; others do not.
Though babies are given medication for particularly severe withdrawal, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists instead recommends other measures, including placing the baby in a dark and quiet room away from the neonatal intensive care unit, swaddling, breastfeeding , and staying in the same room as their moms. The program HHS is setting up will help spread information about how healthcare providers should treat infants.
President Trump is signing a bill into law Wednesday that helps tackle various aspects of the opioid epidemic. The bill includes a provision allowing the Medicare program to reimburse for addiction treatment delivered through telehealth. It also gives people more access to medicines that will help treat addiction and funds medical research for better addiction treatment.