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Allegheny

Pittsburgh hospitals keep moms with opioid-dependent babies

Wes Venteicher
| Monday, July 2, 2018, 5:00 p.m.
This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. Walmart is helping customers get rid of leftover opioids by giving them packets that turn the addictive painkillers into a useless gel. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)
This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. Walmart is helping customers get rid of leftover opioids by giving them packets that turn the addictive painkillers into a useless gel. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

UPMC has launched the second program in Pittsburgh to provide free rooms for mothers of babies born with opioid dependencies.

The grant-funded Parent Partnership Unit will provide six beds at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital where new mothers can stay with babies who otherwise would be placed in a neonatal intensive care unit, said Patty Genday, executive director of women's services at the Oakland hospital.

Genday said research shows keeping opioid-dependent babies with their mothers can shorten hospital stays for the newborns and even decrease the morphine doses needed to manage some of their withdrawal symptoms, which include high-pitched wails, jitters, poor sleep, elevated temperatures and other discomforts.

“Part of treatment for (an opioid-dependent) baby, other than pharmacological, is bonding, touch and soothing,” Genday said.

UPMC will track outcomes in a yearlong pilot program using the six rooms and could continue the program if it is successful, Genday said. Purdue Pharma is supporting the program with a $175,000 grant, and the 25 Club, a group that supports neonatal medicine and research at Magee, is contributing $66,000.

Allegheny Health Network started keeping opioid-dependent babies with their mothers in September 2015 instead of sending the babies to a neonatal intensive care unit, said Deborah McDonald, director of the network's women's health programs.

West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield has 12 beds where mothers can stay with their opioid-dependent babies, while Jefferson Hospital, in Jefferson Hills, has seven beds where the mothers and babies can stay, McDonald said.

She said the practice has decreased stays and the use of drugs to treat the babies. She said the hospital hasn't received any grants to support the program.

“If we can, our goal is to not use pharmacologic. We're going to look at everything we can do non-pharmacologically to help get that baby through the withdrawal,” she said.

Babies can be born dependent on opioids if their mothers are using or on methadone and buprenorphine, common drugs used to treat addiction.

Known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, the dependency normally takes five to seven days to diagnose, Genday said. Mothers are typically discharged from the hospital two or three days after birth. Both hospital systems let mothers stay after their discharge for the duration of a baby's treatment, which can last weeks. Both systems provide education for the mothers on breastfeeding, nutrition and managing stress.

The average hospital stay for babies with the syndrome is about 17 days, according to a Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council study from March.

Hospital stays for drug withdrawal in newborns have increased more than 1,000 percent over the past 17 years, to 15 hospitalizations per 1,000 births, according to the report.

No long-term studies have been done to determine whether dependencies at birth have lasting consequences.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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