Some of the youngest victims of the heroin and opiate epidemic are newborns, and a new state campaign focuses on preventing that from happening.
The state Department of Health launched an awareness campaign this week to reduce opioid dependence in pregnant mothers and their babies who may be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
"Babies (who) are exposed to drugs in utero run the risk of being born premature, birth defects and withdrawal symptoms such as seizures and vomiting," Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement on Monday  "By encouraging pregnant women to seek help, their addiction can be addressed to reduce the impact on their unborn child."
Since 2008, cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome in New Jersey have doubled to 685 babies in 2016, according to the Department of Health. Health experts in the past have attributed the sharp increases to the current epidemic of opioid addiction sweeping the state.
Report data from the New Jersey Substance Abuse Monitoring System 2015 showed that the most common drug used by pregnant mothers with, almost 60 percent.
Others included opiates (9.7 percent), marijuana (13.5 percent) and alcohol (9.3 percent), state officials said.
The awareness campaign will distribute materials, provide advertising in neighborhood stores and buses. promote on social networks and create a new website at nj.gov/health/treated4baby with information and resources on neonatal abstinence syndrome.
The state department is partnering with community health service providers to help spread the word and get pregnant at risk women in contact with appropriate resources, which may include consulting a doctor or specialist for assisted treatment for medication, or MAT.
"Some women do not realize they can get drug-assisted treatment during pregnancy to help them and their newborns stop opiates," Elnahal said in a statement. "There is no reason for these babies and their mothers to remain dependent."
The state issued several grants to counties in 2017 for its Maternal Wrap Around Program, which combines intensive case management, comprehensive services and recovery support for pregnant opiate dependents and postpartum women.