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Local hospital helping babies born with opioid addiction

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BATON ROUGE - The capital city is not excluded from the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, and that includes the city's newborns.

"We've seen a 67-percent increase in the number of women and babies affected just here at Woman's Hospital," Dr. Rebekah Gee said. "Babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome are withdrawing from opiates."

This withdrawal can cause serious side effects.

"Initially what you see is babies that are fussy, they don't feed well, they have diarrhea, they have tremors, a great amount of irritability," Dr. Steven Spedale explained.

With 45 babies needing pharmacological treatment for addiction in the NICU last year, Woman's Hospital decided to do something about it.

"What we're here today to celebrate is the GRACE program. This is a program to avoid any baby being born addicted to opiates," Gee said.

GRACE, which stands for "Guiding Recovery And Creating Empowerment is the first program of its kind in the Gulf South. Mothers who enroll will have access to services specific to their needs during and after pregnancy.

Mothers who want help will not have to worry about getting in trouble for using illegal drugs.

"She would not have to worry about being prosecuted," social worker Jenna Ourso explained. "We actually encourage her to get help and establish that she is getting help... So if DCFS has to become involved at some point, we will walk her through all of that."

The program will be made possible through A $1.2 million grant from United Healthcare.

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