A new study has found that long-term unemployment and a shortage of mental health providers is associated with higher levels of neonatal abstinence syndrome.
The study was published this week in the journal of the American Medical Association. It looked at how county economic factors – particularly unemployment rates – were related to the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS. NAS happens when a baby withdraws from drugs they were exposed to in the womb.
Researchers looked at 580 counties over a 7-year period, many of which were in Appalachia. (North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and New York were all studied, but West Virginia was not.)
Rates of NAS were highest in rural remote counties. These counties also had the highest unemployment rates and the least amount of mental health providers.
The authors said that the relationship between economics and misuse of opioids is complex and wasn’t comprehensively examined in this study, but that ultimately their findings did suggest a strong association between long-term unemployment, not enough mental health providers and higher county-level rates of NAS.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.