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Thank you for the publishing “The Birth of a Crisis” on March 25th.

Regan Foster’s story provides well-researched insight into the issues stemming from newborns diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS.  Babies born with NAS typically experience tremors, frantic breathing and racing heart rates as they withdraw from the opioids taken by their mothers during pregnancy.  Around-the-clock care puts an extensive burden on the amazing nurses, physicians and volunteers caring for them in our hospitals.  More than 80 percent of all NAS babies are covered by Medicaid, which means taxpayers are covering the costs.  With more babies diagnosed with NAS every day, how we care for them is a growing concern.

To improve your story’s impact, I would like to clarify these babies are not addicts or addicted.  Instead, they are opioid-exposed.

This is not about semantics, wordsmithing or spin to prevent hurting other people’s feelings.  Accurately describing them as opioid-exposed babies helps improves care, lowers costs and bring us together.

Describing babies as addicts reinforces the stigma associated with addiction.  Stigma is a barrier, even among healthcare workers.  Medical evidence and our nation’s opioid strategy calls for its elimination.

In terms of improving care and lowering costs, the most comprehensive study with NAS babies (published last April in PEDIATRICS, the official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) is entitled, “Ohio Perinatal Quality Collaborative Improves Care of Neonatal Narcotic Abstinence Syndrome.”  Their standardized approach included training nurses, doctors and other providers in “non-judgmental care” to reduce the stigma associated with mothers with a history of opioid use and their babies.  The study involved 52 hospital neonatal intensive care units across Ohio, and it reported a significant reduction in cost and improved care.

*Related content: The birth of a crisis*

In terms of bringing us together, look no further than Secretary of Health & Human Services Alex Azar’s “Five point strategy to combat the opioid crisis“.  With full support from the President, our nation’s strategy states we will, “Implement science-based education campaigns to improve the public’s understanding of substance use disorders as well as evidence-based treatments and prevention strategies, and to eliminate stigma associated with the disease.”

One last point is that by definition the term “addiction” excludes babies.  Addiction is a disease characterized by chronic relapse and compulsive drug seeking.  Newborns do not relapse or compulsively seek drugs.  And there is no peer-review evidence that NAS babies are more prone to become addicted later in life because they were born exposed to opioids.

Describing babies as addicts reinforces the stigma associated with addiction.  Stigma is a barrier, even among healthcare workers.  Medical evidence and our nation’s opioid strategy calls for its elimination.

We want NAS babies and their mothers to recover faster and at lower cost.

So, let’s start by using the right words to help eliminate the stigma we must overcome.

Sincerely,

John Konsin

Co-founder & CEO

Prapela, Inc.

Concord, Massachusetts