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Washington no longer requires hospitals to report all substance-exposed infants

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(The Center Square) – Washington health agencies are no longer requiring hospitals to report all substance-exposed infants.

“While hospitals are still required to report cases where there is a safety concern for the child, not all families that have a child with prenatal substance exposure require child welfare intervention,” said Ross Hunter, secretary of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families, in a news release.

The Washington State Department of Health, the Washington State Health Care Authority, the Washington State Hospital Association and the DCYF are allowing substance-exposed infants to receive “wrap-around services” without hospitals reporting them to Child Protective Services so long as there is “no safety concern.”

“We still want to connect these families with community-based services and resources that will support the family’s needs, reduce risks and increase protective factors,” Hunter said.

The agencies are also dissuading hospitals from using medication and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for babies with symptoms of withdrawal, instead naming the “Eat, Sleep, Console” method as “best practice.” The new method prioritizes measures like rooming with parents, breastfeeding, swaddling and a quiet, dark room.

The DOH said a “growing body of research” shows this brings shorter hospital stays and less likelihood of medication to treat infant opioid withdrawal. The agency also said hospitals should adopt state policy and train staff accordingly by Jan. 1, 2025.

Washington’s police, prosecutors, and legislators have been working to address a recent uptick in synthetic opioid overdoses among children, according to KOMO. The state’s opioid-caused death rate more than doubled from 2019 to 2022, according to the University of Washington.

“The opioid and overdose epidemic is disrupting the lives of a growing number of families in our state,” said DOH Chief Science Officer Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett in the news release. “These changes will help every baby born in Washington get the healthiest start possible.”

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