First lady Melania Trump learns about youngest victims of opioid epidemic in Cincinnati

First lady learns about youngest opioid victims
Posted at 5:35 PM, Feb 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-06 00:49:56-05

CINCINNATI -- First lady Melania Trump spent Monday afternoon learning about the youngest victims of the opioid epidemic: babies who come out of the womb already addicted.

Wearing a cheerful yellow dress, the first lady brought Valentine's cards and coloring books. She spent time with the young patients. And she heard about neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, from doctors dealing with it every day at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"She wanted to know many babies we see in a year, she wanted to know how the moms felt," said Gayle Hertenstein, a neonatal nurse practitioner who helped prepare for Trump's visit. 

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Children with NAS suffer withdrawal and other health problems, including vomiting and diarrhea, shortly after birth. They are known to have high-pitched, inconsolable screams, and their symptoms can last days or even weeks. 

They need a quiet environment and round-the-clock care, whether it be cuddling, swaddling or nurturing.

A recent study found that rates of NAS have increased nearly fivefold over the past decade in the United States.

And the Newborn Intensive Care Follow-up Clinic at Children's Hospital is one of the few hospital clinics that follow hundreds of children born into the opioid epidemic. Hertenstein, who described both Trump and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway as gracious and engaged, said she hopes the high-profile visit will draw attention to the need for NAS care all over the country.

"It's going to help us," she said. "It brings light to this and a lot more light to this epidemic and how horrible it is."

Research has found children with NAS can suffer lingering effects later in life. Cincinnati researchers found thesy can also suffer from torticollis -- a twist of the neck. That causes a baby's head to favor one side or another. Torticollis is often associated with a flattening of the head. If left untreated, it can cause longer-term issues. 

And as they grow even older, these children may be more likely to perform poorly in school.

Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, a law enforcement representative on the Cincinnati-based Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, told WCPO President Donald Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency last October hasn’t been backed by more federal funding. 

Other local leaders, like Hamilton County Health Commissioner Tim Ingram, agree the fight needs more money.

"We really need for the president to follow up with a clear plan ensuring adequate resources," Ingram said.