New video aims to curb neonatal abstinence syndrome

Contact: Bob Wheaton 517-241-2112

For Immediate Release: April 22, 2016

Babies born to mothers with drug addictions on the rise in Michigan

ALPENA, Mich. – Ashli Green is haunted every day by the suffering her infant daughter endured after she was born with symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Green is certain that knowledge of her unborn baby’s pending plight would have convinced her to stop using hard drugs during her pregnancy. It also could have prevented Green from having her parental rights terminated for both her newborn daughter and her then 4-year-old son.

Today, Green is in recovery, and a key figure in “Stories Not Secrets,” a video that aims to help educate the public – and women like Green – of the risks of opioid dependency during pregnancy. The video, released today, April 22, 2016, at an event in the Alpena County Circuit Courtroom, is a collaborative project of several health, human services, legal and community organizations in northern Michigan.

NAS is a group of problems that occurs in newborns exposed in the womb to addictive opiate drugs, such as heroin, oxycodone or methadone. The baby becomes addicted along with the mother. Symptoms include excessive or inconsolable crying, seizures, trembling, poor feeding, diarrhea, sleep problems and other health problems

In 2010 in Michigan, 404 newborn babies were treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome. By 2014, the number had more than doubled to 815, according to the Michigan Health & Hospital Association Service Corp.

“The opiate drug epidemic in northern Michigan is hurting babies and tearing families apart,” said John Keller, director of Alpena/Montmorency Department of Health and Human Services. “We’re seeing it in the growing number of babies going to the neonatal intensive care unit with NAS symptoms, and we’re seeing it in the growing caseloads in the courts and Children’s Protective Services.”

Judge Thomas J. LaCross of the Alpena County Probate Court, a former 26th Circuit Court Family Division presiding judge, and Keller identified education as a key component to stemming the tide and, in 2014, began efforts to produce the video.

“I see the video as a very useful tool for the courts, and an important piece of the prevention effort,” LaCross said. “The public needs to understand this growing problem in their communities and at-risk women need to understand the full nature of the “I see the video as a very useful tool for the courts, and an important piece of the prevention effort,” LaCross said. “The public needs to understand this growing problem in their communities and at-risk women need to understand the full nature of the consequences of drug dependency. The ultimate goal is to help keep moms and babies healthy and intact.”

While the video tells the story of the physical and emotional struggles associated with drug dependency and NAS, it also offers a message of hope – there is help available every step of the way, and women should not be ashamed to seek it. “Nobody is going to judge you if you’re doing what’s right for you and your baby,” Keller said.

LaCross and Keller received financial support for the video from the Exchange Club of Alpena and further support from Northern Michigan Regional Entity, a 21-county agency that manages the behavioral health services for people enrolled in Medicaid. Also involved in the project are Alpena/Presque Isle/Montmorency Child Abuse and Neglect Team, Munson Medical Center, Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Alpena Regional Medical Center and the Michigan Supreme Court. The video was co-produced by CML Marketing Communications and Jacqueline Southby Photography, both of Traverse City.

Ari Adler, director of communications for Gov. Rick Snyder, spoke at the unveiling of the video to show the governor’s support for the efforts. Adler worked closely with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who chaired the Governor's Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force. The final report of that task force can be found on the governor’s website.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan L. Larsen, the Court’s liaison to problem-solving courts, was unable to attend in person but shared a videotaped message lauding the greater Alpena community groups for working together to find solutions to the issue. Plans are to make the video available to courts, schools, treatment centers, human services agencies, and health care and community organizations.

Alpena Exchange Club member Lee Szczesniak summed up the nearly two-year project as a labor of love for children. “If our video can help save just one child from suffering with NAS, then all of our efforts will have been worthwhile.” View the video on the Michigan Supreme Court YouTube Channel. To request a copy, contact the Exchange Club of Alpena, exchangeclubofalpena@yahoo.com

# # #