A nursery in Arizona is caring for the youngest victims of the opioid crisis.
Hushabye Nursery, in Phoenix, treats babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a withdrawal-like condition caused by opiates.
NAS develops when an infant’s mother uses drugs during pregnancy, causing their babies to become addicted to the substances.
“When you see a baby withdraw you never, ever, ever forget it,” Tara Sundem, the executive director of Hushabye Nursery, told Reuters, adding a baby withdrawing through opiate use disorder is going to look “just like” an adult’s withdrawal.
“The fentanyl crisis just keeps going,” Sundem continued. “And I, I don’t know. It’s kind of one of those it’s like, are we ever going to get a little bit better?”
Symptoms of NAS in newborns include trembling uncontrollably, clenching their muscles and gasping for breath, which appear within a few days after birth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of babies born with NAS increased 82% nationally from 2010 to 2017. In 2020, around six newborns were diagnosed with NAS for every 1,000 hospital stays.
Babies suffering from NAS need dark, quiet spaces that mimic the womb but are large enough for an entire family — so each of the 12 rooms at the nursery has a bed for the parents and a special bassinet to soothe the infant.
“In the nursery we have a Snoo, which is a fancy bassinet that when baby cries starts wiggling,” Sunem explained. “It will do a womb noise, kind of a shushing noise to be like Mommy’s heartbeat.”
“If I didn’t meet Hushabye I would have had no clue what NAS was,” Clarissa Collins, a recovering addict who was at Hushabye with her newborn baby daughter, told Reuters. “What to look for, how to care for my baby, I had no knowledge.”
Collins is now a peer support specialist at Hushabye.
The families tend to stay for eight days at Hushabye, while treatment for NAS can last from 1 week to 6 months.
Each room also has overdose antidote Narcan, which everyone at Hushabye is taught how to administrate.
“You never know, when you’re going to have someone that struggles, that you’re going to need this,” Sundem explained. “Even when we don’t think anyone that we know does. We do. So families take that home with them. Even families, adoptive families, it’s like please, take it with you. You never know. It’s that prevalent.”
Dr. Suma Rao, a neonatologist and medical director of The Banner University Medical Center NICU said they see fentanyl detoxes “a lot” in babies, especially as many illicit drugs are laced with the potentially fatal synthetic opioid drug.
“The moms are either using it or misusing the fentanyl,” Tao explained. “[Often] the mother may or may not know that she’s been taking this that has been laced with fentanyl.”
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