As pointed out Friday by area health officials, drug addiction is affecting newborn babies in the Buffalo Trace Region at alarming rates.
The news was delivered by Dr. David Doty, obstetrician/gynecologist with Primary Plus and Allison Adams, director of the Buffalo Trace District Health Department during a Maysville-Mason County Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday. Dr. Pamela Vaught, executive director of Comprehend Inc. also contributed to the discussion.
Entitled "The Hidden Tax: Drug addiction is not just one person's problem," the program focused upon the impact of illegal drug use in the region, the cost to taxpayers and the unknown, long-term effects of babies born with a drug addiction because of an addicted mother.
Adams said the drug addition problem in the county has resulted in more unintended overdoses and increased visits to the emergency room, resulting in higher costs to taxpayers. She said drug related ER visits have increased to 2,500 over a two-year period. She said better use of the state's KASPER system to monitor the issuance of prescription drugs by doctors, which limits patients who "doctor shop," has been successful, but the use of heroin as the drug of choice has increased dramatically as a result.
The impact is a dwindling workforce which is drug free for local employers to pull from. Adams said while many people stereotype who a drug user is, it is the functioning drug user in the work place who is high that poses a bigger problem because of the increased risk of workplace accidents, meaning higher insurance and worker compensation rates.
Vaught noted in 2012, 4,500 people in the region were in need of substance abuse treatment, with 17 percent, or 855 people receiving treatment through her agency. She said 29 percent of that number are females and the average cost to taxpayers for substance abuse in Kentucky has risen to $23,000-$25,000 per person. That cost includes ER visits, incarceration costs, and judicial costs. The cost for treating a person who goes into an intensive substance abuse program is $2,500 per year.
Vaught said in 2011 Comprehend started an Intensive Outpatient Program for pregnant women and 30 women have particpated. Vaught said while the number may not sound high, four "clean" babies have been born to mothers in the program and another is on the way.
"The issues are out there, we can't hide behind it anymore," she said.
It was Doty's presentation that more clearly illustrated the depth of the problem, when he noted in 2010 the national average of pregnant women who tested positive for drug use was 4.4 percent, compared to 21 percent of pregnant women he sees at his Maysville office.
"Five times more than the national average, five times more," he said.
Doty said pregnant patients known to be substance abusers are routinely screened and will use any measure to block the drugs from showing up. He said patients chew and swallow oxidants like effervescent tablets to block the results.
Doty said statistics gathered for a period of Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2013, for his patient base showed of 469 patients screened for drugs, 94 tested positive. He said in the first week of screening, six of 10 tested positive. The screenings also check for hepititas C, because many patients inject drugs.
Babies are now being born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which is a group of problems that occur when the newborn is exposed to illegal or prescription drugs while in the womb.
Doty said the medical cost for a newborn without NAS is $10,000; the medical cost for a newborn with NAS is $53,400.
The withdrawal begins when the umbilical cord is cut and the passage of the drug from mother to baby stops, he said.
It can take from 16 to 21 days for an addicted newborn to leave the hospital, Doty said.
In addition, in 2001, 67 cases of NAS were reported in Kentucky hospitals; in 2012, 889 cases were reported.
Doty said 70 percent of newborns in Kentucky are paid by Medicaid and in 2011, $26 million of that cost was attributed to newborns with NAS. The cost in 2008 for NAS newborns was $7 million.
Doty concluded his presentation by comparing the problem with an iceberg.
"We are only seeing 10 percent of the problem, 90 percent is unseen right now," he said. "We don't know what the long-term effects will be on these babies."
For substance abuse treatment information, contact Comprehend Inc. at 606-564-4016; the Buffalo Trace District Health Department at 606-564-9447; or your local physician.