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St. Joseph Women’s Services physician, director promote addiction screenings for pregnant mothers

The opioid addiction epidemic is taking its toll on Pennsylvania children, two experts from Penn State Health St. Joseph said.

Dr. Jessika Kissling, an obstetrician/gynecologist from Penn State Health St. Joseph Women’s Services, described the host of problems drug addiction can cause pregnant mothers and their babies at the Women’s Caucus of the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association annual conference Aug. 7 in Reading.

Kissling and Kirsten Benjamin, director of Women and Children’s Services, emphasized the importance of standardized screenings to help identify potential problems during prenatal care visits.

Benjamin highlighted some staggering statistics:

  • An average of 15 per 1,000 babies are born in Pennsylvania hospitals with Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS). Greene County has 76 per 1,000 babies born in hospitals with NOWS.
  • NOWS babies stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for an average of 17 days, five times longer than the average newborn stays in the well newborn nursery.
  • The cost to Pennsylvania Medicaid for that care was $14.1 million dollars in 2017. From Jan. 1, 2018, to June 8, 2019, 2,788 babies were born in Pennsylvania exhibiting symptoms of NOWS.

Kissling and Benjamin participated in a question-and-answer session and discussed the value of community programs such as housing, transportation, counseling and nutrition to support pregnant women who have addiction issues.

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