The U.S. opioid epidemic affects all ages, even newborns born to addicted mothers, and recent reports from doctors warn that the COVID-19 pandemic could cause more babies to be born with addiction.
Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this year showed an 82% increase in babies being born with addiction from 2010-2017. Doctors like Rahul Gupta at March of Dimes expects post-COVID-19 pandemic numbers to be even worse, saying in a recent news report that “when…services are either shut down or turned into virtual services, more people can be denied those services and that only leads to more suffering.”
These rising numbers add to a lack of systematic research that has already left this population neglected in the opioid epidemic response. To fill this gap, a national surveillance system developed by The Task Force’s Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII) is analyzing the challenges, social determinants, and treatment outcomes for pregnant women with opioid use disorder (OUD) and their babies.
The program, called the MATernaL and Infant NetworK to Understand Outcomes Associated with Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder during Pregnancy (MAT-LINK), collects 1,200 clinical data points from babies and their mothers who received medication-assisted treatment or detoxification for OUD during their pregnancy. The program also collects information on COVID-19, race and ethnicity, to identify disparities in outcomes. From this data, public health practitioners can identify the challenges of OUD and treatments on pregnant mothers and their newborns up to six years old.
Initially, the system piloted at four sites including Boston Medical Center Corporation, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Northwest in Oregon, Ohio State University, and University of Utah, all of which predominantly serve white women. Seeking to address disparities in impact across racial and ethnic minorities, MAT-LINK is expanding to three new sites in different U.S. regions to increase representation of Black, Native American, and Hispanic mothers and babies.
“The addition of the new sites provides greater diversity across the nation to give a better picture of the impact of opioid use and the health outcomes of pregnancies throughout the country especially for Black, Hispanic and Native American communities, who are already at greater risk during pregnancy,” said Julie Kenyon, the MAT-LINK project manager. “The HHS data shows a 131% increase of opioid-related diagnoses for mothers at delivery across all races and ethnicities, so we need to understand how treatment is affecting these different populations.”
Infants born to mothers with OUD can have long-term child health and developmental complications, including being born with addiction disorders that cause withdrawal symptoms known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. For pregnant women, opioid use disorder has been linked to increased risk of prenatal complications that contribute to stillbirths, higher risk deliveries, and longer maternal hospital stays.
In addition to adding new sites and collecting data on race and ethnicity, program teams will now capture metrics up until the children are six years old.
“We are now collecting additional primary care and developmental assessments data to help understand child health outcomes related to things such as school readiness, living conditions, and developmental and behavioral impacts of opioid use and OUD treatment,” said Rachelle Jones, PHII Senior Business Analyst.
The five-year project is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the U.S. CDC.