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Junior League Donates $20,000 to ETSU for Creation of NAS Database

Left in the wake of Tennessee’s opioid epidemic are hundreds of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS.

To be exact, 779 this year alone, according to a 2016 Tennessee Department of Health surveillance report. In Sullivan County, an average of 49.1 out of every 1,000 babies are born with a mixture of withdrawal symptoms due to drugs used by the mother during pregnancy.

With significant differences in treatment methods among hospitals, East Tennessee State University’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment is creating an NAS database to better understand methods of treatment and causes.

But the database didn’t come cheap.

Members of the Junior League of Johnson City recently gave $20,000 to the Center to help jumpstart the creation of the database.

“We’re very grateful to the Junior League for the funding. Really, without it, we wouldn’t have the resources to pull together the data, analyze the data and really coordinate the efforts of our work group,” said Beth Bailey, professor and director of Primary Care Research in Quillen’s Department of Family Medicine.

Angela Hagaman, program director for the National Institute on Drug Abuse in ETSU’s College of Public Health, said there are currently no long-term studies examining the outcomes for NAS babies.

“There is a lot of disagreement among the medical community and there still is (about NAS) and so we saw a need to study immediate treatment outcomes across our systems,” said Hagaman.

“We wanted to set ourselves up because without the data, the foundation and the mechanisms to pull that data from the electronic health records, we couldn’t even approach an (Institute of Health) or someone for longterm studies.”

Not only will the data help advance longterm studies, it will also immediately help treat the NAS babies more effectively.

Bailey said the database will store information like the mother’s medical condition, outcomes of the infants, progressions of the NAS, length of hospital stay, along with medication dosage and treatment outcomes.

“The goal really is to find a way to predict which babies will develop NAS and which will not. Because women who use opioids during pregnancy, only about half of their babies will develop NAS,” Bailey said.

“So, we’re trying to find ways to find out what predicts (NAS) so that we can inform prescribers.”

For example, if a woman smokes cigarettes and there is a link between opioids, smoking and NAS, the prescriber will know not to give a pregnant smoker opioids because the combination will more likely lead to an infant being born with NAS.

“We’re going to be looking at all the different treatments, which babies perhaps stayed less time in the hospital, if they were on a certain combination of medication or a medication combined with therapy, does it shorten the progression? Then ultimately, we actually just wrote a grant to the National Institute of Health to follow these babies longterm,” Bailey said.

Among the 80-some variables stored in the registry, no patient identifications will be used.

“I wanted to make this clear that we won’t know the baby’s name, the mother’s name, where they’re from.

We don’t know any of that identifying information,” Bailey said.

In previous NAS cases, the pertinent electronic health information will be entered into the database.

Formal partnerships with Mountain States Health Alliance and Mission Health System are currently being pursued to generate NAS data.

“For us, this was the perfect fit,” said Ginny Wright, president of the Junior League of Johnson City. “We want to see the start of the registry and we want to see the registry over time create best practices around what really works in solving the issue of NAS. We think this donation can create change.”

Part of the money awarded is financing a part-time employee who currently works solely on the NAS database project.

“I received the database itself last Friday, but it’s missing some elements. So we’re going to be reeling it out in phases,” Bailey said.

“I expect probably by the end of November, we’ll have a complete database and be ready to go for a complete analysis.”

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