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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
9:12 AM Thu, Sept. 20th

Editorial: The smallest victims among us need help too

To the common citizen, opioid abuse exists only among drug abusers; however, among us are people who “maintain” on painkillers that are opioids.

They can be the grandfather dependent on a medication that is an opioid to relieve his back and joint pain, or the construction worker or policeman who suffered a mishap and is now addicted. The examples are endless.

In fact, according to Gov. Doug Ducey’s opioid epidemic primer – released last month ahead of his call for passage of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act – it gets worse: Yavapai is among the top five counties in the state for the most reported opioid overdoses (June 2017 through January 2018). In this “class” also are Mohave and Pinal, which rank relatively equally with Yavapai (between 104 and 235 reported overdoses for the time period), exceeded only by Pima (993) and Maricopa (3,114), the state’s most populous counties.

At the same time, among those people who use opioids every day are a group of residents who are dependent upon them by no choice of their own: newborns. Two babies are born every day in Arizona craving their mother’s drug of choice. They are the tiniest victims of the opioid crisis that is sweeping the nation.

This should be the easiest cases to prevent.

Babies born to mothers hooked on heroin, methamphetamine and opioids suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS, and have difficulty withdrawing from drug dependency, said Tara Sundem, registered nurse and co-founder of Hushabye Nursery in Phoenix. “I think the biggest thing right now is destigmatizing opioid disorders,” Sundem told the Kingman Daily Miner, a sister publication to The Daily Courier.

“Everyone needs to realize that they probably know somebody using opioids and they don’t talk about it. It’s a brain disease. Nobody chooses opioids. Until we improve access to care and destigmatize addiction, it’s truly where we need to go.”

There were a total of 1,472 cases of NAS in Arizona from 2008 to 2013, and the rate has increased 235 percent, Sundem said.

This affects us all because Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) paid for 79 percent of those births at an average cost of $31,000 for infants with NAS, compared with $2,500 for babies without NAS.

Further, they’re also more likely to have low birth weights and respiratory complications, and the majority (81 percent) of hospital costs for opioid babies were paid by state Medicaid programs, reflecting the greater tendency of opiate-abusing mothers coming from lower-income brackets, the National Institutes of Health reported.

Those are our tax dollars at work.

Consider also, Mom cannot merely quit cold-turkey. “Two years ago, just like every body else, I thought, ‘Why don’t these pregnant moms just stop?’ That’s not recommended. The recommended treatment is to start them on medical assistance treatment, methadone or Subutex,” Sundem said.

If Mom were to abruptly quit, she would probably lose the baby, she added.

Take that to the next step when the baby is born addicted, it must now be weaned off the drug using one of the other drugs such as methadone.

Thus, the child is an addict as well. This must stop.

Additionally, if you know someone dependent on drugs to relieve their ills, they need help. They may not want to

reach out, and may need assistance.

Consider the following resources available locally: West Yavapai Guidance Clinic (928-445-5211) – assisting with treatment; and resources, including MatForce (928-708-0100), Yavapai County Community Health Services (928-583-1000 in Prescott or 928-771-3377 in Prescott Valley), and Yavapai Regional Medical Center (928-445-2700).

Help is only a phone call away.