With the Garden State experiencing a staggering increase in the incidence of newborns exposed to drugs and alcohol in the mother's womb, the health department has launched a campaign to get a better handle on the problem.

Specifically targeting infant exposure to opioids — such as prescription painkillers and illicit drugs like heroin — the awareness campaign from the New Jersey Department of Health includes a new website, a social media push, corner store and bus advertising, and posters that are being shared statewide with local and county health departments, hospitals, community health centers and other sites that serve women of child-bearing age.

“Babies that are exposed to drugs in the womb are at risk of prematurity, birth defects and withdrawal symptoms such as seizures and vomiting,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal in a news release.

NJ Dept. of Health

From 2008 to 2016, cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), — newborns suffering from withdrawal within 2-3 days after birth — doubled to 685 in New Jersey. According to 2015 data from the New Jersey Substance Abuse Monitoring System, heroin is the most commonly used substance among pregnant women.

NAS takes a toll on the heathcare system as well, according to data cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The average hospital stay for newborns with NAS is 17 days, and that comes along with an average cost approaching $67,000.

"Women should understand that their addiction can be treated to reduce the impact to their unborn child," Colette Lamothe-Galette, DOH's director of population health, told New Jersey 101.5. "Medication-assisted treatment is beneficial to both the mother and the unborn child, to help them become substance-free."

Campaign signage encourages women to call 844-276-2777 for treatment referrals.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.