New Dartmouth-Hitchcock Research Helps Babies Born With Opiate Dependencies

May 19, 2016

New research out of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) as a result of their mother's opiate use shows that a different method for neo-natal care can address infants' symptoms more effectively.

In 2015, one in 10 newborn babies in the Upper Valley were exposed to opioid drugs before they were born, according to Dartmouth-Hitchcock. And many had symptoms of physical dependence at birth. 

Now new research shows how hospital stay time can be reduced and the costs of care cut in half.

Dr. Allison Holmes, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, conducted the study. She says the baby's environment is often the biggest predictor of how well medications will work for the opioid-dependent infant.

“Even using the same medication in different settings, the babies had very different lengths of stay," Holmes says. "So looking that as a whole you think, ‘Maybe it's not the medication that matters but more the environment of care.’”

In the hospital's new model, the neo-natal intensive care unit – an open bay area where the baby cannot be with the family – has been eliminated.

Now, parents, families and volunteers are with the newborn 24 hours a day, providing the baby with the extra physical attention he or she needs to curb symptoms and develop healthily.