Area hospitals changing approach to babies born with drugs in their system


Local News

Mass General Brigham said babies born with “substance exposure” alone will no longer be reported to state welfare agencies unless there are other concerns the baby is abused or neglected.

People walk past a sign at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024. AP Photo/Steve LeBlanc

A large hospital group with labor rooms in Massachusetts and New Hampshire will no longer immediately report to state welfare agencies when a baby is born with drugs in its system.

Mass General Brigham announced Tuesday it is revamping its policies regarding pregnant people with substance abuse disorders, a condition which the hospital said disproportionately affects Black people and does not alone signal child abuse or neglect.

The hospital group — which includes obstetrics and gynecology wards at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and Salem Hospital — said the new policy change would standardize an approach to toxicology testing.

The change, coming to hospitals later this month, would require written consent for toxicology testing of pregnant people outside of emergencies. That testing would also only be ordered if the results could change a doctor’s medical approach to their care.

Mass General Brigham said babies born with “substance exposure” alone will no longer be immediately reported to state welfare agencies unless there are other concerns the baby is abused or neglected. People can be treated with methadone or buprenorphine for opioid use disorder, which can be prescribed during pregnancy.

The hospital said studies show that Black pregnant people are more likely to be drug tested and reported to welfare agencies than white pregnant people.

Mass General Brigham’s Senior Medical Director for Substance Use Disorder Sarah Wakeman said in a statement that the policy is “based on sound science.”

“Our new perinatal testing and reporting policy is the latest step in our efforts to address longstanding inequities in substance use disorder care and to provide compassionate, evidence-based support to families, while addressing substance use disorder as a treatable health condition,” Wakeman said.

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