Winchester is a small city that has suffered from the opioid epidemic ravaging the United States—a public health crisis so large that it takes the life of about 115 Americans every single day. In Virginia, fatal drug overdoses are the leading cause of unnatural death, and have been since 2013. And yet Winchester’s story is not a tragedy, because even as the city grapples with addiction, it has earned a reputation for having created a uniquely strong community-led response to the opioid epidemic, including dedicated doctors and nurses.
For Dr. Teresa Clawson, MEDNAX-affiliated neonatologist at Winchester Medical Center, the crisis started in 2009 when she first noticed an uptick in the number of babies being diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). She and her team formed the Perinatal Substance Abuse Task Force, and hospital officials say they have seen a change – they have gotten much better at identifying babies with NAS and the NICU has gotten better at treating babies born with addiction, including reducing average length of stay. “This is the result of caring more than others think is wise for addicted parents who have historically been cast aside; risking more than others think is necessary to encourage parents with the disease of drug addiction to be active participants in their babies’ care; and expecting more than others think is possible, to believe in each other and as a team to confront this difficult professional situation, and to believe in the families that we serve.”
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