Panel: Nurse reports 10 drug-addicted babies in 2016

Ten drug-addicted babies have already been born at UPMC Northwest since the beginning of the year.

“It’s becoming more and more of a problem in this area, unfortunately,” said Cheri Siverling, a nurse and director of the hospital’s Family Birthing Center.

“If we continue at this rate we’re going to be way above what we had in 2015,” Siverling said.

Siverling, who has nearly 40 years experience as an obstetric nurse, led a brown bag discussion Thursday at the Human Services Complex in Franklin.

Siverling’s presentation was on neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. The term includes a group of problems experienced by infants when they are exposed to addictive drugs in their mothers’ wombs.

“This is definitely a hot topic in Venango County,” said Brian Gotses, senior program specialist for Venango County Human Services.

Thursday’s lunch presentation was well-attended by about 20 professionals representing various county child advocacy organizations.

“That just shows you what kind of an issue this is around here,” Gotses said of the good turnout.

The number one class of drugs responsible for NAS cases is opiates, but other drugs can cause withdrawal symptoms as well, Siverling said.

Heroin, an opiate, is the most widely abused drug in Pennsylvania, she said. The nurse is also an advisory member to the county’s drug overdose task force.

There are occasions in pregnancy – such as kidney pain or migraine – where a woman may be prescribed an opiate drug, and NAS occurs regardless of whether the drugs are illegal or prescribed, Siverling said.

It is unsafe for women to stop using the drugs that treat heroin addiction – such as methadone and Suboxone – during pregnancy, but these drugs can also cause NAS, Siverling said.

Suboxone-exposed infants are more commonly seen at the Seneca hospital, because there are no methadone clinics nearby, she said.

Mothers are tested for drug use at the beginning of their pregnancies if they seek prenatal care at the hospital, Siverling said.

The infants of any mother who has drugs in her system is automatically kept for seven days of monitoring at the hospital, Siverling said. The newborns have their vitals checked every four hours and any symptoms of drug exposure are charted and followed.

Before they are discharged, mothers are also taught therapeutic handling techniques such as swaddling, rocking and humming that help to calm drug-exposed infants, Siverling said. A mother’s patience is important at this time because these infants cry ceaselessly, she said.

Siverling is taking her message about NAS around the community and has led presentations in area schools.

“It touches everybody,”Gotses said.

For more information about the county’s drug abuse task force call (814) 432-9163. Anyone seeking help for drug addiction may call (814) 432-9111.