A public health group from West Virginia made the trip to Jackson this summer to train local practitioners and public health officials in diagnosing, treating and supporting babies born reliant on drugs. The group, Lily’s Place, is the first Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) center in the nation and dovetails treatment for babies with resources for parents to aid recovery all under one treatment roof. 

The major message: NAS is treatable with medicine-based intervention and therapy, and best managed when mom and baby stay together. To recover, the baby needs “skin time” bonding with its mother. To facilitate recovery for mom and baby, Lily’s Place uses on-site social workers to coordinate with state agencies, peer recovery counselors, parenting classes and family-centered nurseries to provide trauma-informed care to the whole family.

Currently Mississippi only has two treatment facilities — with 44 beds total — specialized for pregnant or parenting women, but they are not designed to treat babies. Advocates say more work is needed to integrate stakeholders across the state, like grant funders, intervention programs, safety nets and insurance. That’s where the state opioid response grant comes in, coordinated by Jan Dawson of the Mississippi Public Health Initiative. 

“Policy change takes time, but we don’t have time,” she said, referring to continually climbing rates of opioid use and NAS diagnoses. She reiterated Lily’s Place training that pregnant women with substance use disorder need prenatal care and treatment as soon as possible, and said policies that separate mom and baby hamper recovery for both. 

“Policy change takes time, but we don’t have time.”

Because NAS treatment involves so many stakeholders and agencies across the state — Medicaid, public health and mental health departments, Child Protection Services — linking responses and funds is key but can be tricky. Dawson hopes to leverage the Lily’s Place training to facilitate long-term state agency coordination.  

The round up is a section in our monthly women and girls newsletter, The Inform[H]er.


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Erica Hensley, a native of Atlanta, has been working as an investigative reporter focusing on public health for Mississippi Today since May 2018. She is a Knight Foundation fellow for our newsroom’s collaboration with local TV station WLBT and curates The Inform[H]er, our monthly women and girls’ newsletter. She is the 2019 recipient of the Doris O'Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship. Erica received a bachelor’s in print journalism and political science from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a master’s in health and medical journalism from the University of Georgia Grady College for Journalism and Mass Communication.