Columbus -- Four programs in Ohio are receiving grant money to help pregnant women who are addicted to heroin or other opiates as the state looks to combat drug abuse and its effects on children.
The $4.2 million, three-year pilot project is expected to help close to 300 women who are addicted to prescription painkillers and heroin. The state recently awarded some funds to treatment and counseling programs in Cuyahoga, Athens, Franklin and Hamilton counties.
Ohio officials hope to reach the expectant mothers early in their pregnancies and work with them through their recovery process.
"If we can intervene early and make an impact, then the more likely we are to create a situation where the mom is not as reliant on crisis services and emergency services, and the same for the young child," said Brad DeCamp, the state's policy and program chief for opioid treatment.
The project is among a variety of initiatives the state has launched in recent years to target heroin and prescription painkiller abuse.
In 2007, fatal drug overdoses surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio.
Ohio also has seen an increase in the number of drug-addicted babies, state data show. The state had 88 cases per 10,000 live births in 2011. That's more than six times the rate in 2004, which was 14 cases per 10,000 live births.
Babies born to mothers who are addicted to painkillers or other opiates experience neonatal abstinence syndrome. Their symptoms include drug withdrawal, respiratory complications, feeding difficulties and sometimes even seizures.
Caring for the drug-addicted newborns and their mothers can be costly.
Health care expenses associated with treating babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome topped $70 million in 2011, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.
The mothers and babies are often on Medicaid.
DeCamp said the project is expected to curb the costs of specialized care for newborns by helping their mothers get drug treatment and reducing the babies' length of stay in the intensive care unit.
Women in the project will undergo a combination of counseling and medication-assisted treatment for their addiction, along with help to prevent relapses after their babies are born. They could get vouchers for transitional housing as well as transportation or brief baby-sitting for medical and treatment appointments.
State officials are using a combination of federal and Ohio dollars to pay for the pilot project.
DeCamp said the programs recently received a portion of the funds and are expected to begin helping mothers this summer.
The program winners are MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland; Health Recovery Services Inc. in Athens; CompDrug Inc. in Columbus; and First Step Home in Cincinnati.