Implementation of a statewide surveillance system for neonatal abstinence syndrome - Tennessee, 2013.


Over the last decade, rates of opioid pain reliever prescribing grew substantially in the United States, affecting many segments of the population, including pregnant women. Nationally, Tennessee ranks second in the rate of prescriptions written for opioid pain relievers, with 1.4 per person in 2012. The rising prevalence of opioid pain reliever use and misuse in Tennessee led to an increase in adverse outcomes in the state, including neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is a withdrawal syndrome experienced by infants shortly after birth. The syndrome most commonly occurs after antenatal exposure to opioids, although other medications have also been implicated. From 2000 to 2009, the incidence rate of NAS in Tennessee increased from 0.7 to 5.1 per 1,000 births, exceeding the national average, which increased from 1.2 to 3.4 per 1,000 births. NAS is associated with numerous morbidities for the infant, including low birth weight, poor feeding, and respiratory problems. Previous population-based analyses of NAS relied on hospital discharge data, which typically become available for analysis only after substantial delay. In Tennessee, the rising incidence of NAS and its associated public health burden created an urgent need for timelier incidence figures to drive policy and prevention efforts. Beginning January 1, 2013, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) made NAS reporting mandatory. A total of 921 cases were reported in 2013 (among 79,954 births), with the most cases clustered in eastern Tennessee; 63% of cases occurred to mothers who were reported to be using at least one substance prescribed by a health care provider (e.g., opioid pain relievers or maintenance medications for opioid dependency), and 33% of cases occurred among women using illicit or diverted substances (e.g., heroin or medications prescribed for someone else). The first year's surveillance results highlight the need for primary prevention activities focused on reducing dependence/addiction among women of childbearing age and preventing unintended pregnancy among female opioid users.