New law hopes to solve drug dependent baby epidemic

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - January 1st marked a big step in the fight to stop the birth of babies dependent on drugs.

A law passed in 2012 goes into effect, requiring hospitals across the state to track babies born with symptoms in an online database.

"This addition will allow us to have more real-time data about NAS incidence and will help inform future efforts aimed at primary evaluation of NAS," said Commissioner John J. Dreyzehner.

Until now, hospitals have individually tracked results and the state relied on discharge records to count the number of babies affected in our state.

"You have, you know, only a certain amount of resources so you want to put those resources to the best use you can. So we're trying to find out exactly how many babies are affected, and where those babies are located," said East Tennessee Children's Hospital neonatologist Dr. John Buchheit.

ETCH receives NAS babies from all across the state. A year ago, it created the world's first unit designed especially to treat babies with drug dependency. The unit's 16 beds have never been fully occupied since day one, and overflow always stretches into several NICUs.

Numbers at Children's have tripled just in the last year, and nurses and doctors all say it's time for change.

"Ideally we would like to see these moms ween off before they get pregnant. That would be the goal," said Buchheit.

Buchheit called the monitoring system a first step in the fight to eliminate NAS.

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