Tennessee Offers Programs to Address NAS Crisis


The use of opioids, highly addictive narcotic drugs, in the U.S. and Tennessee has increased rapidly in recent years. The opioid crisis is a major reason for the big increase in the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

NAS is a medical condition that occurs in newborn babies who have been exposed to narcotics before birth. If the mother takes narcotics while pregnant, the drugs are passed on to the unborn baby and can cause the baby to be born dependent on addictive drugs.

These narcotics include legally obtained drugs through a prescription. They include illegally obtained drugs like prescription drugs taken without a valid prescription. They include illegal drugs like heroin.

In 2016, there were 1,068 cases of NAS in Tennessee, which is a tenfold increase from a decade earlier.

In the majority of Tennessee’s NAS cases (72.7%), at least one of the substances causing NAS is prescribed to the mother by a health care provider.

When babies are born with NAS, they can experience painful withdrawal symptoms, including vomiting, excessive sweating, high-pitched crying, tremors, seizures, diarrhea, fever and sleeping problems. Symptoms can last one week to several weeks or months.

In 2015, the average cost of care for a NAS baby in the first year of life was more than 9.3 times higher than for normal birth weight infants on TennCare. NAS babies were also 11 times more likely to enter state custody during their first year of life compared to other TennCare infants.

NAS is a preventable medical condition.

Prevention: Family Planning

The Tennessee Department of Health offers family planning services in every county health department clinic. The clinics are staffed by doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses. The staff is trained to provide education, counseling, physical assessments and treatment, if needed, and contraceptives.

No one will be denied services due to an inability to pay. Clinics offer services for women, men and teens. All information is kept private.

Prevention: Substance Abuse Treatment

There are many ways to access substance abuse treatment in Tennessee. Private insurance and TennCare are resources that can help pay for treatment. The state of Tennessee also has programs for people without insurance and who meet 133% of the federal poverty guidelinesClick here for eligibility information. (Private insurance and TennCare can also help pay for treatment.)

Here are several types of addiction recovery supports available in Tennessee:

Women’s Recovery and Treatment: Services are available to women and pregnant women 18 and older with substance use disorders.

The Tennessee Redline: If you have general questions about substance abuse or recovery, call the Tennessee REDLINE 24/7 for free confidential information and referrals at 800-889-9789.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)The Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator is for people seeking treatment facilities for substance abuse and/or mental health problems. Or call SAMHSA’s Helpline at 800-662-HELP.

Adult Substance Abuse Treatment: The Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) offers this program for adults who are dependent on drugs or alcohol. Get information about services and treatment providers.

Medication Assisted Opioid Treatment Programs: Tennessee citizens who are addicted to opioids have the opportunity to enter treatment programs to break their cycle of substance abuse.

Crisis Detoxification: This TDMHSAS program is available for those who are experiencing a crisis and are intoxicated on drugs or alcohol.

Importance of Prenatal Care

Prenatal care is the healthcare you get while you’re pregnant. Prenatal care can help keep you and your baby healthy. If you know you’re pregnant, or think you might be, call your doctor right away to schedule a visit.

Your doctor will schedule you for many checkups during your pregnancy. Don’t miss any—they’re all important.

Additional Resources

The TDMHSAS’ Adolescent Substance Use Disorders Services Program offers treatment to adolescents 13-18 who may have a substance abuse disorder.

Get more information about protecting your family from substance abuse, including opioid abuse.

Learn more about NAS through the state’s FAQ page.