WASHINGTON—First Lady Melania Trump continued her work to help fight the opioid crisis on Oct. 10 with a visit to an infant recovery center.
Lily’s Place, based in Huntington, Virginia, treats infants for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which occurs when a baby suddenly experiences withdrawal after birth because it was exposed to illegal and/or prescription drugs while in the womb. NAS symptoms range from excessive crying and irritability to difficulties with breathing and feeding.
“We use proven therapeutic handling methods and the latest weaning techniques to ease withdrawal symptoms,” the center’s website says.
The center also provides services to parents and families dealing with addiction.
“By placing a priority on the whole family, infants born dependent on drugs are given the best opportunity to thrive because their parents are also given the support and tools they need to recover and succeed, as parents and members of their community,” Mrs. Trump said during the visit.
“It is my hope that we can find ways to create more of the opportunities afforded by places like Lily’s Place, so that we can continue to help infants and children grow into happy, healthy adults.”
Although NAS is rarely fatal, it can cause significant illness and often results in prolonged hospital stays, according to a Pediatrics journal article.
A recent study found that cases of NAS have grown nearly five-fold between 2000 and 2012 and that most infants with NAS are covered under Medicaid, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
A baby with NAS is born every 25 minutes in the United States, according to a 2015 study cited by the GAO.
The GAO published a report on Oct. 4, which said the most frequently cited challenges around NAS include the mother’s use of multiple drugs—as it can exacerbate NAS symptoms; stigma faced by pregnant women who use opioids; hospital staff burden and limited physical capacity to care for infants with NAS; limited coordination of care for mothers and infants with NAS; and gaps in research and data on NAS, such as research on the long-term effects of the condition.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Oct. 10 that 40 percent of babies born addicted to opioids go into the foster system.
In 2015, there were more than 425,000 children in foster care, according to a Health and Human Services report—an increase of about 30,000 since 2012.
When a newborn has been found to have been prenatally exposed to drugs or alcohol, this often triggers an investigation of suspected child abuse and neglect; and in in some states, prenatal substance exposure itself constitutes neglect and is grounds for removing a child from its parents, the GAO states.
Mrs. Trump hosted a roundtable on Sept. 28, saying that addressing the crisis would be a focus as first lady. “I’m here to listen and learn,” she said. “I look forward to working alongside the presidential opioid commission and people such as yourself to do all we can to teach children the dangerous consequences of drug abuse.”
The Trump administration has launched several initiatives to combat the opioid crisis in America, including the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
Mr. Trump has instructed his administration to use all “appropriate emergency and other authorities” to respond to the opioid epidemic, in an official statement on Aug. 10.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has introduced several measures from the law enforcement end.
Sessions announced that $58.8 million has been allocated to strengthen drug court programs and to help public health agencies address prescription drug and opioid abuse.
In August, Sessions announced the formation of a unit that will investigate the overprescribing of opioids within the health care system.
“This is an urgent problem, and we are making it a top priority,” Sessions said. “The best long-term solution is prevention. The best action is not to start. Just say no.”
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.
Based on preliminary data, approximately 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year, according to the Department of Justice. This is up 23 percent from 2015, when 52,000 people died of overdoses.
Most often an opioid addiction starts with a prescription pill obtained through a friend or family member. It can take just one painkiller like oxycodone, or an anti-anxiety medication like Adderall, for some people to get hooked.