CONCORD — The Executive Council on Wednesday balked at approving a new program to add information about maternal opioid use to birth records after Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers could not guarantee the information would not end up on publicly available birth certificates.
The question arose as Meyers sought approval for a $45,000 contract with the Division of Vital Records Administration, a department of the Secretary of State’s office.
The council voted unanimously to table the request pending answers from Meyers, which he later said would be made available in a letter to the council on Monday.
The money would fund the program for fiscal years 2019-2020, with plans to seek additional funding in subsequent years.
Meyers described it as an effort to “address an important gap in New Hampshire’s opioid surveillance data for this vulnerable newborn population.”
New Hampshire has experienced a significant increase in babies born with opioids in their systems since the outbreak of the opioid addiction crisis.
From 2005 to 2015 the number of infants diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in the Granite State increased five-fold, from 52 to 269, according to the most recent data available from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.
The plan is for the vital records division to change the data fields in its birth reports to allow for the tracking of substance use disorder and opioid related exposure in birth records.
“The division will apply all protections and security currently in effect to all new data collected under this agreement,” according to the request submitted by DHHS.
Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, wanted to know if that meant the information would be not included on publicly available birth certificates. He asked whether the information is offered voluntarily or taken directly from medical records with or without consent.
“I believe its voluntary,” Meyers said. “There would be no public access to identifiable personal information.”
Volinsky countered that records of live birth are accessible and asked if those records would include the new opioid-related data.
“I am not certain. I have to go back and find out,” said Meyers.
Later in the day he said it would take more time to answer the questions.
“I will be submitting a letter to the governor and council on Monday providing answers to the questions asked on this item today,” said Meyers.