Opioid stock

This Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows hydrocodone-acetaminophen pills, also known as Vicodin, arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt.

The Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Indiana Department of Health has been working to collect data on a withdrawal syndrome in newborns amid the country's opioid abuse epidemic.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome occurs when the transfer of harmful substances from mother to baby abruptly stops at the time of birth. The syndrome can be caused by different types of substances, but it's most commonly the result of opioids, The South Bend Tribune reported .

The department began testing babies at four Indiana hospitals in 2016. It expanded to 27 hospitals this year.

The agency found that about 16 percent of newborns tested at all of the participating hospitals had been exposed to opioids while in the womb.

Martha Allen, director of the health department's Maternal and Child Health Division, said Indiana is above the national average. However, she suspects the problem is worse because not every baby at the hospital is tested.

The data being collected bolsters the growing problem that hospitals have seen in recent years, said Donetta Gee-Weiler, vice president of women and children's services for Community Health Network, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit health system.

Gee-Weiler said doctors and nurses with Community Health are treating many newborns with withdrawal symptoms. She said before the department's study, there wasn't a grasp of the number of newborns affected.

"What this proves is that it's a true epidemic," Gee-Weiler said of the data.

Community Health's Indianapolis East Hospital was one of the four hospitals to first join the study. Twenty percent of newborns tested at the hospital have been exposed to opioids.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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