West Virginia Rate of Babies Born Drug Dependent Jumps

Apr 11, 2018

Health officials said the rate of babies born dependent on drugs has increased dramatically in West Virginia during the past five years.

In releasing county-level data for about half the state Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Resources said in a news release that the statewide rate for neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, was 50.6 per 1,000 live births last year.

NAS is a withdrawal syndrome that occurs after prenatal exposure to drugs is discontinued suddenly at birth. Infants with NAS often require longer hospital stays to monitor and treat withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, feeding difficulties, excessive crying, and sensitivity to stimuli.

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 hospital births in 2013, compared with the national average of 5.8.

The state data show Lincoln County had the highest rate last year at 106.6 per 1,000 births. Marshall County was next at 102.1.

Two counties (Pleasants and Pendleton) had no infants with NAS; all other counties had at least one documented case.  As more years of data are collected, data will become available for all counties.  The NAS data are now posted online at www.dhhr.wv.gov/bph.

“West Virginia is one of a few states that collects NAS surveillance data and is serving as a model for other states across the nation,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, State Health Officer and Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, said in the release.  “By releasing county data, we will be able to understand the impact of NAS at the local level and establish baseline data for program planning and management.” 

According to the release, the data, compiled by DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, Office of Maternal Child and Family Health (OMFCH), with support from West Virginia University’s Department of Pediatrics Birth Score Office, provide insight to both state and county level data for NAS for 27 counties. The remaining county-level data were suppressed because of low occurrence of NAS and the need to protect confidentiality for those infants and their families.  This is the first time county level data has been shared with local communities.