IHS aims to improve care of women, infants affected by prenatal opioid exposure

12/23/2019 10:30 AM
WASHINGTON – On Dec. 5, the Indian Health Service and American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Native American Child Health released clinical recommendations on neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, or NOWS, for IHS, tribal and urban Indian organization health care facilities.

According to an IHS press release, these recommendations provide standards of care surrounding screening, diagnosing, and treatment of pregnant mothers and infants affected by prenatal opioid exposure.

“Infants born withdrawing from opioids represent one of the most heartbreaking aspects of our country’s addiction crisis, which has hit American Indian and Alaska Native communities especially hard,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “The new clinical recommendations will help elevate the quality of care offered to mothers and infants affected by the opioid crisis, and this cooperative project reflects the priority that the Trump Administration has put on addressing substance abuse and increasing the quality of care provided through the Indian Health Service.”

IHS Chief Medical Officer Rear Adm. Michael Toedt said IHS recognizes that preserving the infant-mother relationship is of the utmost importance. “These recommendations further establish the need for ongoing monitoring and clinical management of opioid-exposed infants to improve health outcomes as part of our comprehensive strategy to address the opioid epidemic.”

The recommendations will serve as a resource to improve identification, care and outcomes of infants at risk for NOWS, the release states. It also states the recommendations were developed based on critical feedback the IHS received on the importance of prenatal opioid exposure in opioid listening sessions and tribal consultations throughout the past year.

“American Indian and Alaska Native women face significant barriers in obtaining appropriate care for substance use disorders while pregnant, which may delay early intervention efforts that are best for the newborn’s health,” Shaquita Bell, AAP Committee on Native American Child Health chairwoman, said. “AAP is proud to partner with IHS to support efforts to prevent neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, to provide the most appropriate and effective treatments for infants and keep them connected with their families and communities.”

According to the release, the recommendations are also a companion guide to clinical recommendations to improve care of American Indian and Alaska Native pregnant women and women of childbearing age with opioid use disorder.

The release states that maintaining relationships and forging partnerships with tribes and tribal health organizations in rural and urban Indian communities are essential to addressing the opioid epidemic and caring for American Indian and Alaska Native mothers, infants and families affected by NOWS.

It also states that the IHS engages with communities and partners with tribes to promote evidence-based programs and policies to support recovery, as well as prevention efforts. NOWS occurs in 55% to 94% of infants prenatally exposed to opioids and varies in severity from mild to, in rare cases, life-threatening, according to the release.

The release also states that management of NOWS begins with identifying women at risk for opioid withdrawal to improve outcomes for both mothers and newborns and help to keep the family unit together.

The recommendations are available https://www.ihs.gov/opioids/childhealth/.


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