Amid opioid epidemic, doctors expand care for addicted pregnant women

Doctors in Pennsylvania are trying to help expectant moms addicted to opioids, and in turn help newborns that are born already exposed to the drugs.

"I went into several rehabs, then kept using after those," a former addict, who asked to remain anonymous and is now a mother, told Fox News. "I never really thought that I was going to be clean and sober ever again."

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every 25 minutes a baby is born with opioid withdrawal symptoms, or Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), totaling nearly 60 per day. These newborns suffer from symptoms including seizures, irritability, vomiting, tremors and excessive sweating.

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To combat this issue, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh is working to expand its Pregnancy Recovery Center. Its buprenorphine treatment follows a "medical home model" program that treats all stages of pregnancy and addiction.

With the hospital's buprenorphine treatment, 35 percent of babies are born with withdrawal symptoms that merit medication. With methadone, the other common treatment for pregnant mothers, babies have a 60-80 percent chance of needing medication to treat withdrawal, according to hospital employees.

Even though buprenorphine might look more promising for the baby, it's not for everyone, Dr. Michael England, medical director of Pregnancy Recovery Center, told Fox News.

Since the program’s installment in 2014, 234 women have participated or are currently enrolled. Of those participants, 108 women have graduated and 101 have failed or dropped out, Courtney Capara, the hospital’s communications specialist, said. Those who do not continue in the program are often transitioned into another program that could be more effective.

England said it's important to remember that babies may still need to be treated for withdrawal symptoms because buprenorphine is still an opioid product.

"We do not take them off opioids,” England said. "We convert them from the opioid product they're using—either the heroin or the prescription drug—to…buprenorphine"