New public health research confirms what Tennessee has known for years: The number of drug-dependent newborns is growing fastest in rural areas.
Researchers from Vanderbilt, the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota sifted through hospital billing data to spot the national trend.
Over the past 10 years, this condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome, when babies have to withdraw from the pain pills or heroin their mother is on, became much more prevalent across the country. But rural areas were off the charts.
"We were surprised by the number of infants in rural communities compared to urban communities," says Vanderbilt's Stephen Patrick, senior author on the study. "Just the numbers that we found were striking."
In 2003, rural areas were tracking one NAS birth per 1,000. A decade later, the figure had climbed 80 percent to 7.5 per 1,000, according to the research.
The disparity is particularly noticeable in Tennessee, where the rural, mountainous northeastern part of the state remains the epicenter.
Tennessee has recognized this problem for years — it was one of the first states to make neonatal abstinence syndrome a reportable condition. And this study confirms other states are seeing the same thing. Patrick hopes the research adds some urgency to increasing the availability of drug treatment in rural areas.
“As a nation, there is an urgent need to develop strategies tailored to rural communities focused on prevention and expansion of treatment,” Patrick said in a statement. “We need to develop means to support rural hospitals, especially critical access hospitals, that are on the front lines in providing care for mothers and infants impacted by the opioid epidemic."