There’s a new crisis hitting Ontario’s hospitals, and it’s affecting the youngest of patients.
Ontario’s opioid epidemic has produced more newborns with addictions and who need care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) — and that is putting stress on hospital resources.
“I would say by the year 2000, most of the babies needing attention in Ontario and Canadian hospitals were from opioid exposure,” Dr. Brian Chisamore told CityNews.
Chisamore helped create the Toronto Centre for Substance Abuse in Pregnancy program at St. Joseph’s Health Centre about 20 years ago. It’s now one of a handful of centres that’s caring for the hundreds of babies born in Ontario each year with some form of addiction.
“We have the mothers that were prescribed opioid replacements like methadone and buprenorphine and then mothers who are on opioids as well,” he said.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is marked by symptoms of drug addiction and withdrawal in infants who were exposed to drugs in utero.
A recent study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows there has been a 27-per-cent increase in babies born with NAS over a four-year period — jumping from 1,450 cases in 2012 to 1,850 in 2017.
More than half of the cases are in Ontario and cost the province tens of thousands of dollars for each baby, according to Chisamore.
The average length of stay for a newborn in the NICU is eight to nine days. But those with withdrawal can stay 10 times that — anywhere from 15 to 60 days.
With NICU’s like the one at St. Joe’s already struggling with resources, Chisamore says it may be time to rethink where these babies are treated.
“Maybe it comes out of the NICU,” he said. “Maybe it becomes more paediatric wards. Maybe we teach the mothers how to wean their babies from morphine from home.”