The Louisiana Department of Health has selected Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge and Slidell Memorial Hospital to participate in the Department’s Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome Pilot Project.

Use of opioids during pregnancy can result in a drug withdrawal syndrome in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) or neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).

The incidence of NOWS is rising in the United States and Louisiana, with a doubling of these numbers between 2013 and 2018 in some areas of the state. This poses challenges to families, communities and providers. This syndrome carries an enormous burden in terms of how long new mothers and their babies remain hospitalized, as well as the costs associated with providing care and treatment.

This pilot project is the result of legislation passed during the 2018 legislative session that charged the Department with creating a plan to improve outcomes associated with NOWS.

The project started this past February when the Office of Public Health issued a Request for Information to test, implement and evaluate the best way for mothers who are impacted by opioids to deliver their babies. All Louisiana birthing hospitals were eligible to apply.

Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health complimented Woman’s Hospital and Slidell Memorial Hospital for their willingness to participate.

“By joining this effort, these two birthing hospitals are taking the lead on improving care and outcomes for families impacted by opioids,” Gee said.   

NOWS is a treatable condition. National literature shows that improving hospital-based management of newborns born addicted to opioids, access to maternal medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, and prevention of opioid use disorders in people of reproductive age are key to making improvements.

Strategies that have proven to be effective include:

  • Sharing data across health systems, 
  • Trauma-informed approach to care: Taking into account past traumas experienced by the mother and her ability to cope.
  • Easy access to services: When the necessary services for parents and children are available in a single location, and
  • Care coordination: Making sure that the right services are available to families.

During this two-year pilot project, improvement teams from the two hospitals will work closely with the Department’s Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative to improve the identification and treatment of pregnant women with opioid use disorders and improve the care of infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome.  

The learning and the results of this pilot program will be shared with key stakeholder groups to plan how these best practices are introduced and implemented in other birthing facilities.