HUNTINGTON - With the help of Bob Hansen, recently appointed director of addiction services at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and Marshall Health, a new community group is looking to establish a comprehensive program for babies born addicted to drugs.
The plan is to use the former Enterprise Child Development Center, which closed in September. It is located at 2021 5th Ave. West.
"We are looking at a comprehensive program that would be from prenatal and birth to kindergarten," Hansen said Tuesday during the monthly meeting of Cabell-Huntington Health Department's Regional Health Connect. "One of the agencies we've involved is River Valley Child Development. Lo and behold there is a day care center in our community that is closed but was meant to be a day care center. We are looking at a specialized program where we can train childcare providers on how to work effectively with babies with NAS."
Neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, is a group of symptoms that occur when a baby has been exposed to addictive drugs in the womb. The hallmark symptom is shaking accompanied with a high-pitched cry.
The group, called Healthy Connections, is a collaboration of about 30 community agencies. Hansen said it was started to address the gaps in treatment for these babies, specifically after they are discharged from the hospital and/or Lily's Place.
"We have community agencies that provide services to parents and to newborns, but NAS is something we don't know much about," Hansen said. "There isn't a whole lot of research on how to work with these babies and what is effective."
Hansen said they are hoping they can use federal funding from the 21st Century Cures Act to get the program started, which he also hopes will be free.
Hansen was just settling into retirement after a 40-year career in behavioral health, including helping start what is now Recovery Point of West Virginia and 22 years as CEO of Prestera Center, when Marshall knocked on his door.
"I'm excited that as a community we are facing our issues, and I think we can make progress," Hansen said. "I'm lucky enough to be dusted off by Marshall and be back out to help them along."
The new position is part of Marshall's increasing efforts in the fight against addiction, which includes a new medical director and professor of addiction science at the school, a position that's expected to be filled by this summer.
"It's really great to be involved with Marshall because of the commitment by the president to throw the resources of the whole university behind addressing addiction issues," Hansen said. "There are a lot of things happening on campus that you are going to be hearing more about."
Along with the NAS committee, Hansen is a part of the effort to emulate a program started in Colerain Township in Ohio. The quick response team - consisting of a police officer, paramedic and counselor - makes home visits and follow up with people after they have overdosed. Since the program started in July 2015, almost 80 percent of people have entered treatment.
Members of the team visited Huntington Monday to give a presentation on how the program works.
"There are no easy, quick fixes, but at the same time if we aren't addressing our problem, then we are not going to see any progress whatsoever," Hansen said.
Hansen said it was time to take the data that's been collected about overdoses and use it, though he does want to figure out just how many of the overdoses are repeats so a more targeted approach can be taken for those individuals.
Hansen also said the area needs more medication-assisted treatment options and more collaboration between treatment providers.
Regional Health Connect meets at 8 a.m. the last Tuesday of every month at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. All are welcome to learn more about different aspects of public health in the county.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.