Speed aid to NAS babies

If you know the right people, a phone call can hook you up with a supply of heroin within minutes. Getting the government to take decisive action to help babies harmed by the opioid crisis can take years.

Last fall, first lady Melania Trump visited Lily’s Place in Huntington, W.Va. It opened in 2014 to help newborns suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome.

That is a sterile term for something truly terrible. NAS babies are born with opioid withdrawal symptoms, because their mothers used heroin and similar drugs while pregnant. The poison went into their bloodstreams, then to the unborn children they were carrying.

NAS babies can suffer agony while their systems adjust to life without opioids. There is evidence the problem can affect them adversely in later life.

Lily’s Place, with just 12 beds, does what the wonderful people there can to help NAS babies. The facility cares for about 100 of them each year.

During her visit, Mrs. Trump was told a major challenge is paying for the care Lily’s Place offers.

Medicaid, on which many addicted mothers rely, did not pay for NAS care.

It does now, in West Virginia, at least. This is a good place to start; the state has the highest rate of babies born with NAS in the nation. In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the rate of NAS births here was 33.4 per 1,000.

None of this is news. Again, Lily’s Place was established nearly three-plus years ago. The need to provide specialized care for NAS babies was clear that long ago.

Yet the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has just now approved use of Medicaid to pay for NAS treatment — in West Virginia. Hopefully, approval for other states will follow swiftly.

What took so long? Bureaucratic procedures? Failure to recognize a need and address it?

Lily’s Place Executive Director Rebecca Crowder has said she hopes more centers like hers can open throughout the nation. Soon, we hope.