Tufts docs’ app to help drug-exposed newborns
Rising number of tots exposed to weed
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.