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Chautauqua seeing increase in babies born addicted to drugs

CHAUTAUQUA – A report on the state of health in Chautauqua County in 2014 included grim statistics about infants born to drug-addicted mothers and a high rate of heart disease in the general public.

Christine Schuyler, the county’s director of health and human services, presented the report Friday at Chautauqua Institution where she initiated a day of lectures on health services and programs in the county. She said employers tell her that 50 percent of the potential employees whom they would like to interview fail drug tests.

Schuyler said the growing problem in the county is heroin addiction.

“A few years ago, we made it harder for people to get prescription painkillers, so they have turned to heroin,” she said. Schuyler referenced the recent arrests in Jamestown, where more than 45 people were charged with serious drug crimes and hundreds of bags of heroin were confiscated.

She said newborn babies who are hospitalized for drug-related medical issues has been on the increase.

“This was a new measure that really shocked us,” said Schuyler. “The rate of newborns that tested positive for drugs in Chautauqua County was nearly double the state average.” The three-year average in Chautauqua County is more than 200 per 10,000 births. Schuyler said the highest category for drug addiction involved painkillers and opiates.

Teen pregnancy continues to be an issue, according to Schuyler. She said that besides young mothers having complicated pregnancies and more at-risk infants, they also fail to get pre-natal care. She said a new program in the county has been to train peer counselors to talk to women about the need for pre-natal care and birth control.

Schuyler said the number of cases of heart disease is also linked to obesity. She said about one-third of all school children in the county are considered obese. Schuyler said the county is working towards a county-wide school lunch program so that meals are more healthy and provide good nutrition.

Schuyler said that about 50 percent of the students enrolled in public schools in the county are eligible for free or reduced price lunches, so she believes a healthier school lunch program could make a significant impact.

She said a recent survey of adults found that 77 percent do not participate in physical activities and 61 percent of county residents are considered overweight.

“Despite the wonderful farms we have in the county, only about 24 percent of our residents eat five or more servings each day of fruits and vegetables,” she said.

Schuyler concluded her report by saying that health care providers and workforce employers need to work together to find solutions to the problems. She said she believes that reducing the unemployment rate and addressing issues with the lack of education among county residents will have an impact on the health of county residents.

Schuyler’s talk and statistics will be available on the Chautauqua Institution website starting on Monday.