The Community Problem Solving team at Johnson Central Middle School doesn’t initiate solutions to a problem and then discontinue the effort to improve the situation. After winning the 2017 International Problem Solving Competition, the students are not only continuing their winning venture, “Project Ordinary”, but they have initiated the search for another obstacle in the community to tackle. Pam Burton, a teacher who is both the Community Problem Solving and Academic Team coach, remarked that “the students will be using their problem solving skills to address a new issue”.
When introducing a presentation highlighting Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) to students interested in participating in the new project, Mrs. Burton explained, “This may be a topic you’re scared of. Listen and think ‘we can do this’. Sometimes gems are out there and we have to grab them”. She told the middle school students that she wants them to “feel powerful and to think outside the box”.
Statistics verify that Kentucky is the fifth leading state in the nation for NAS births. Approximately 10% of the babies born in the Highlands Regional Medical Center are afflicted with NAS. For some quarters of a year, the rate increases to up to 70%. A NAS baby averages a 23 day hospital stay with a mean cost of $93,400 per newborn. Over $1.5 billion annually is spent relating to health care costs for NAS infants.
The Big Sandy NAS Prevention Team, which presented information to the students, is composed of local health care providers, including Stacy Crum from Passport Health Plan; Danielle Franklin, Community Development Coordinator at the Highlands Regional Medical Center; and Jennifer Wilson, Health Educator for the Johnson County Health Department.
The presenters explained that Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is drug withdrawal in newborns, which is a direct result of the drug dependence of the mother. The baby experiences everything a drug addict experiences when withdrawing, including vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, chills, etc. The team has been created with the goals of developing Public Service Announcements concerning NAS for doctors’ offices and other frequented locations, providing support groups for drug dependent mothers, educating high school students on the issue, placing substance abuse counselors in doctors’ offices, and developing initiatives that will safely wean women from drugs during pregnancy.
Jennifer Wilson explained that babies are not addicted, but have a drug dependency that does not go away at birth. A “life baby”, which is programmed to imitate a dependent baby, was held by some of the students. The model was thin with a grimace on its face and its fists were clinched. The recorded inconsolable cry of a real NAS infant plays when the baby is ‘turned on’ and the continual shaking is also demonstrated by the model.
Ms. Wilson discussed how some of the mothers are “accidental addicts” from prescription medications. She told the group that it is necessary to “look at the big picture and not throw judgment on these women or anyone who is doing drugs”. She then made a profound statement, “It will take a culture change to decrease drug addiction. You are the generation that can change it, turn it around”.
Following the presentation, Ms. Burton instructed each student to write down one thing they feel they can do to help address this problem. Suggestions from the group include: buying a life baby for women to experience the withdrawal symptoms, create programs for affected newborns, send gifts (i.e. blankets, cards) to mothers, provide supplies for newborn intensive care units in local hospitals, and raise money to aid with treatment.
The middle school students will be developing a plan of action for the community issue they choose to address. Without a doubt, the team’s determination and willingness to “think outside the box” will lead to substantial benefits toward solving the problem they identify.