The rate of babies born drug dependent in Beaver County has increased by 388 percent over the past 15 years, according to statewide analysis of hospital data released Tuesday.

The research, conducted by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, showed that 21 of every 1,000 births were marked for substance-related neonatal stays in Beaver County during federal fiscal year 2015. The county rate in 2000 was 4.3 per 1,000 births.

Lawrence County had an even higher rate of drug-dependent newborns based on hospital stays in 2015 than Allegheny, Beaver or Butler counties, at 42.5 per 1,000 babies.

The rate of babies born drug dependent statewide over the same period increased by about 250 percent.

“Unfortunately, this has become a reality of life,” said Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director at Gateway Rehab. “We have this epidemic, and there are thousands of young women in our community of childbearing age who are in addiction and they will get pregnant at times. Sometimes, planned, sometimes not planned. … I would just encourage them to seek medical help and get involved with a maternal addiction program that can help, that will be good for their health and the health of their baby.”

One such program is the Pregnancy Recovery Center at Magee Women’s Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh, which opened in 2014.

Dr. Michael England, director at the center, said the program serves about 150 expectant and postpartum mothers who have substance abuse disorders, particularly with opioids.

Many of those mothers are treated with methadone or buprenorphine, but many wait to come forward because of stigma attached to drug addiction.

That’s the case with many who come to Heritage Valley Beaver hospital to give birth, said pediatrician Dr. James Scibilia.
“This is a really complicated problem. It’s not as simple as just patients coming in who have drug addiction, because a lot of these people don’t want to seek medical care because they’re either afraid or they are addicts using drugs in the community and they don’t want to be identified as being addicted,” Scibilia said. “So a lot of them come without really being either identified or without having enough prenatal care to really provide them with services.”

Heritage Valley delivers about 1,300 babies per year.

Long-term effects of babies born drug-dependent aren’t clear, like it is with smoking or drinking alcohol while pregnant, Capretto said.

“Probably the greatest negative effect on the baby is if the mother doesn’t get stability in her life after the pregnancy,” he said. “In other words, she doesn’t get proper treatment for addiction or relapses back into the addiction. It becomes very hard for that mother to provide good parenting.”

The rate of substance-related maternal stays has also been on the rise over the past 15 years. It has increased by 123 percent in Beaver County, from 19.5 per 1,000 hospital stays in federal fiscal year 2000 to 43.6 per 1,000 hospital stays in 2015.

The rate for substance-related stays for Lawrence County mothers in 2015 was comparable to most surrounding counties, at 43.4 per 1,000 maternal hospital stays.

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