CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The rate of babies born dependent on drugs has increased dramatically in West Virginia over the last five years, including two counties where it exceeded one out of every 10 hospital births, health officials said Wednesday.
The statewide rate for neonatal abstinence syndrome was 50.6 for every 1,000 live births last year, the Department of Health and Human Resources said in a news release.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia had the nation’s highest rate of babies born dependent on drugs at 33.4 per 1,000 births in 2013, compared with the national average of 5.8.
The rates in some counties were staggering. Lincoln County had the highest rate at 106.6 per 1,000 births last year, followed by Marshall County at 102.1.
Those are part of a cluster of counties with higher rates in southern West Virginia and in the Northern Panhandle, and state health officer Dr. Rahul Gupta said it could indicate a higher pattern of prescription drug use.
The rate of newborns who are enduring the torment of drug withdrawal exceeded 60 per 1,000 live births in 15 of the 28 reporting counties. Pleasants and Pendleton counties had no such births.
Figures for the 27 remaining counties were suppressed because of low occurrences and the need to protect confidentiality.
“If there were like two kids born with NAS in a particular county, revealing two would almost let the communities figure out which two they were,” Gupta said.
Starting in late 2016, state health officials developed a consistent definition for neonatal abstinence syndrome and trained birth facilities statewide to recognize it. Obtaining county-level data and determining where the higher rates are helps put “more emphasis and focus on those areas for programs and services,” Gupta said.
West Virginia also has the nation’s highest drug overdose death rate. DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said the state’s addiction epidemic has in turn created a child welfare crisis. He said there has been a 46 percent increase in the number of children removed from custody, while 84 percent of all child protective service cases involve drug use.
“Children across our state have suffered more than anyone because of the drug epidemic and these NAS numbers quantify this tragedy,” Crouch said.
The state recently became the first to receive federal approval to begin offering Medicaid coverage to treat drug dependent babies. In October, first lady Melania Trump visited a drug recovery center for infants in Huntington. During the visit to Lily’s Place, Executive Director Rebecca Crowder lamented the challenge of getting funding and insurance coverage to treat them.