Tufts docs’ app to help drug-ex­posed new­borns

Ris­ing num­ber of tots ex­posed to weed

Boston Herald - - NEWS -

The high num­bers of drug-ex­posed new­borns — and the in­crease in mar­i­juana use dur­ing pregnancy — has led Tufts Med­i­cal Cen­ter doc­tors to help de­velop a first-ever app that would iden­tify and treat the tini­est vic­tims of the drug epi­demic.

“We are quite con­cerned about the in­creas­ing use of mar­i­juana by preg­nant women, es­pe­cially in view of le­gal­iza­tion in sev­eral states in the U.S., in­clud­ing Mas­sachusetts,” said Dr. Jonathan Davis, chief of new­born medicine at Tufts Med­i­cal Cen­ter. “This is a very dif­fer­ent type of mar­i­juana than was used in the past, with much higher con­cen­tra­tions of the ac­tive drug, THC.”

He added, “The ef­fects of the drug on the fe­tal brain and the im­pact it may have long term, both in pri­mary ex­po­sure prior to birth and sec­ondary ex­po­sure af­ter birth, are still un­clear.”

Tufts and Dimagi Inc. — a health in­for­mat­ics com­pany in Cam­bridge — have part­nered and are de­vel­op­ing the app with a two-year, $1 mil­lion award from the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Drug Abuse.

The app — called NASCare — would give guid­ance to nurses and doc­tors pro­vid­ing care to the frag­ile ba­bies.

There is no con­sen­sus on how to treat ba­bies born with neona­tal ab­sti­nence syn­drome — which oc­curs in new­borns ex­posed to drugs while in the womb.

Symp­toms of NAS in­clude tremors, ex­ces­sive cry­ing, hy­per­ac­tive re­flexes, seizures and sleep­ing prob­lems.

“The big­gest prob­lem we have is that ev­ery­one is ap­proach­ing it dif­fer­ently,” Davis said of NAS treat­ments.

The app, which will be rolled out within the next year, will in­clude tools like video clips, au­dio and im­ages to help care­givers pin­point the sever­ity of the baby’s con­di­tion. It will pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on specifics down to the pitch of an in­fant’s cry, said Xian Ho, se­nior re­searcher at Dimagi.

There will also be a ween­ing al­go­rithm to aid in de­ter­min­ing how and when to take ba­bies off methadone.

And hope­fully, it will be used at com­mu­nity hos­pi­tals that don’t have as many re­sources in place.

“The goal is re­ally to help stan­dard­ize treat­ments,” Ho said. “There are places with NAS ba­bies that are not equipped to han­dle them.”

HIGH-TECH CARE: Tufts Med­i­cal Cen­ter doc­tors con­cerned about the in­creas­ing use of mar­i­juana by preg­nant women have de­vel­oped an app to treat drug-ex­posed in­fants.

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