The rate of newborns in Maine who experience health problems because they’re exposed to opioids in the womb is nearly five times the national average, according to a report released by the state health department.

Maine’s incidence of the health problems was a little more than 33 per 1,000 live births in 2018, according to the report, provided to the Maine Legislature by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The national rate was seven per 1,000 live births.

The finding was one of many in the annual report from the Maine Maternal, Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Panel that spoke to health challenges for mothers and babies in the state.

According to the report, the percentage of women who smoked during pregnancy in Maine was nearly 12 percent, almost twice the national average of 6.5 percent.

Slightly more children were also born to women with diabetes, and the rate of births to women who were overweight or obese was also about 5 percentage points higher than the national average, the report stated.

The high rate of babies exposed to opioids before birth is a function of the state’s crisis, Stephen Meister, president of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Wednesday. The rates of smoking and obesity reflect longstanding challenges in Maine, he said.


“I think the two big challenges you are looking at here are obesity and opiate use, and behind that would be adverse childhood experiences,” Meister said.

There were also positive signs in the report that spoke to the quality of obstetric care in the state, Meister said. Only 4 percent of Maine women received late or no prenatal care, compared to 6.2 percent for the nation as a whole. The percentage of infants born with low birth weight was also a little more than a percentage point less than the national average at 7.2 percent for Maine.

The Maine health department said the administration of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has taken numerous steps to improve the health of mothers and infants in the state. They include reconstituting the Children’s Cabinet, which is designed to improve early childhood development and support children who are at risk.

The state has also hired a full-time employee at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to coordinate work on maternal substance use disorder and substance-exposed infants.

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