WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Many of the findings of the brand new Rhode Island Kids Count report are positive — but one was not. More babies are being born with exposure — and addiction — to opioids in the Ocean State.
The 2016 Rhode Island Kids Count report was released Monday morning at the Kids Count advocacy group’s annual breakfast at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. The group has released its annual Factbook every year since 1994. This year’s tracks information on 71 indicators of child and family well-being in the areas of Family and Community, Economic Well-Being, Health, Safety and Education.
While the program has tracked continued improvement in some areas, others have started to lag. In particular, said Kids Count Deputy Director Jill Beckwith, “The 2016 Factbook found a continuing increase in the number of babies that were born with exposure to opioids.”
In 2014, 97 babies were diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), where the mother uses addictive opiate drugs while carrying the child. The child becomes addicted as well as the mother, and symptoms of withdrawl may occur.
That’s an increase from 2013, where 76 babies were diagnosed. In 2006, statistics showed 37.2 children were diagnosed.
The condition can seriously affect the infant’s growth and development. “It’s really important that women that have substance abuse issues before they’re pregnant, get treatment, and those that come in pregnant and are using, have access to treatment,” said Beckwith.
34 percent of the children born with NAS live in the metro areas of Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Central Falls. The other 66 percent are spread across the state.
Rhode Island is following a national trend, Beckwith said: “This is not a uniquely Rhode Island issue. But we need to make sure that we have state-level responses and community-level responses to make sure that we get people into treatment.”
A huge part of the responsibility, she added, is on doctors to avoid prescribing opiate painkillers when not completely necessary — for they can lead to addictions to stronger drugs.
Report includes some good news
Among other headlines the organization noted were that the four-year graduation rate is on the rise in Rhode Island. 83 percent of students in the Rhode Island Class of 2015 graduated.
Rhode Island also has the lowest (or best) teen death rate in the United States, and ranks fourth from the bottom (or fourth-best) in the country for child death rate. The state has also seen continued declines in number of youth involved with the juvenile justice system.
But youth of color are disproportionately more likely than white children to be detained and sentenced to the Rhode Island Training School. They’re also more likely to be suspended or disciplined at school, in an analysis of Rhode Island Department of Education data.
More kids also are being hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of a mental disorder; up 53 percent since 2005.