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Dr Marie Sartain
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HHS announces standard definition for opioid withdrawal in infants

HHS, along with leading clinicians, researchers, and policy experts, has established a standard clinical definition for opioid withdrawal in infants. Additionally, they have created a set of foundational principles that highlight bioethical uses for the definition that focus on identifying clinical and supportive care needs for mothers and their infants.

The new standard clinical definition for diagnosis includes prenatal exposure and specific evidence-based clinical signs such as excessive crying, fragmented sleep, tremors, increased muscle tone, and gastrointestinal dysfunction.

“As a pediatrician, I have seen the need for a standard clinical definition for opioid withdrawal in neonates and am excited to see this step in improving care for infants and their families as part of the HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health ADM Rachel Levine. “I look forward to working across all health sectors to get this definition adopted into clinical practice.”

The lack of a standard clinical definition has led to a number of challenges, including medical coding, public health surveillance, research, public health policy, and program development.

The new definition can be applied in the context of neonatal abstinence syndrome or neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, terms that are often used to describe withdrawal due to prenatal substance exposure in infants. The new standard clinical definition of opioid withdrawal in neonates is published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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