Ohio’s First Neonatal Abstinence Awareness Week is Here


Guest Column from Representative Terry Johnson

This year, Ohio is hosting its first ever “Neonatal Abstinence Awareness Week” during the first week of July. This is the result of a bill that I introduced last year, House Bill 465, which unanimously passed both chambers of the state legislature and was signed into law by Governor Kasich on December 4th of 2014. I’m thrilled to see the great state of Ohio taking steps to spread awareness about this terrible medical condition that afflicts the most vulnerable and helpless among us: newborns.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) occurs when a baby is exposed to and becomes dependent upon drugs while in the womb. Babies can be born dependent on a variety of drugs, but overwhelmingly in recent years the exposure has been to opiates and opioids, such as heroin and narcotic pain medicines used by the mother while pregnant. Prolonged exposure can result in the newborn becoming physically dependent to these drugs in much the same way as an addicted mother. This can have many negative health consequences for the newborn, including extreme irritability, inconsolability, a high-pitched cry, seizures, fever, sweating, poor feeding and severe gastrointestinal distress. Neonatal wards across Ohio and indeed America are now crowded with such unfortunate newborns, and volunteers actually come in to hold and gently rock them, providing loving comfort as hospital staffs are at times stretched to the breaking point and have difficulty providing the basic care that is needed.

Newborns are typically very nearsighted, unable to see clearly beyond 8 to 12 inches. That is a good thing, as it gives a baby the perfect opportunity to lie peacefully on mom’s breast and gaze into her loving eyes, forming the most important bond of its life. Babies born with NAS do not have this chance, as they instead spend their first days incredibly sick, screaming through the pain of withdrawal while shivering and shaking, seemingly without end. It is just one more horrible result of the opioid epidemic that has swept through our society, and one of which most people have little or no knowledge.

As an osteopathic family physician and your 90th District State Representative, I felt it was my duty to spread awareness for this condition. As citizens of Ohio, we all need to learn as much as we can about the widespread malady of opiate abuse, and we need to do all that we can to keep young women from ever going down this path. Treatment of opiate addiction, for either adults or newborns, is extremely difficult and expensive. The greatest impact that we can possibly have is through preventing addiction in the first place. The time for talk is over. It is time for action. Much work needs to be done, but it can only begin after we are fully aware and ready to engage.

The first week of July is special to us as Americans because it marks the birth of our nation and the struggle of our founding citizens to be free from political tyranny. Now, in Ohio, my bill will also help us remember that at this very moment tiny babies are struggling to be free from the ice cold grip of drug dependency. I hope that you will read more on this medical condition, and that you will help me spread the word. As always, please feel free to contact my office regarding this or any other state government related issue. Thanks, and God bless!