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Most States Ignore a 2003 Federal Law to Safeguard Newborns After They Leave the Hospital
More than 130,000 newborns have been born addicted to opioids over the last decade, and hundreds have died because of their mothers’ addictions – typically illicit heroin or prescribed methadone. On the flip side, better medical detox like that provided by Novus, a White House program aimed squarely at heroin addiction, and a sweeping grassroots movement to get addiction “out of the closet” offer Americans some hope.
A well-researched and carefully detailed report from Reuters news service reveals that hundreds of American babies die needlessly every year – tragically killed as a result of their parents’ drug addiction – and the death toll is rising.
Part of the problem, says the report, is the fact that most states are ignoring the 2003 Keeping Children and Families Safe Act, which orders states to ensure that at-risk newborns continue to receive care and protection after leaving the hospital.
In many cases, child protection authorities aren’t notified by the hospital medical staff that an at-risk newborn has left the hospital. But many infant fatalities occur even after the authorities were notified, but they didn’t take the protective measures specified in the federal law.
The whole effort is “failing across the nation,” the Reuters investigation said, “endangering children born into America’s growing addiction to heroin and opioids.”
Back in 2003, when Congress passed the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act, roughly 5,000 drug-dependent babies were born in the United States. In the 12 years since then, the number of babies born every year addicted to opioids and other drugs has doubled and even tripled. In the past decade, more than 130,000 babies were born addicted, and the infant mortality rate has soared along with that increase.
“Those kids could and should be alive today and thriving,” said former U.S. Rep. Jim Greenwood, a Republican from the Eighth Congressional District in Bucks County, PA, who authored the provisions in the 2003 federal law. “I would’ve hoped that the whole system – starting at the federal and state levels, the obstetricians and pediatricians – would’ve gotten it straight by now. That they haven’t is a national disgrace.”
Protect every baby regardless of mom’s legal status
Babies born addicted are suffering from what is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. Neonatal specialists say the misery of their withdrawal is horrible to behold, and intense suffering can sometimes go on for weeks.
After the baby is detoxified, out of immediate danger and able to leave the hospital, there’s no guarantee that the mother is capable of providing proper care. The mother’s addiction problems and the conditions at home can often be far from ideal for the safe care and feeding of a newborn.
The law orders all states to protect every baby, whether the mother’s addiction involves legally prescribed or illicit drugs. Health care providers are required to alert Child Protection Services (CPS) so that social workers can ensure the safety of the newborn after it leaves the hospital.
But most states continue to ignore the law, endangering thousands of newborns every year. At least 36 states have “laws or policies” under which doctors don’t have to report cases to CPS. Statutes or policies in another five states are murky and confusing, even for doctors and child protection workers. Only nine states and D.C. appear to conform with the law at least to some degree, the report said.
Every 19 minutes a baby is born addicted to opioids
The Reuters reporters studied thousands of hospital discharge records across the country, and found more than 27,000 cases of drug-dependent newborns diagnosed just in 2013, the latest year with statistics. On average, the report says, one baby was born dependent on opioids every 19 minutes.
The reporters identified hundreds of babies and toddlers who died preventable deaths, children whose mothers used opioids during pregnancy who were sent home to a family unprepared to care properly for an infant.
In three-quarters of the fatalities studied by Reuters, the mother was implicated in her child’s death. For the others it was a husband, boyfriend or another relative. And in nearly three-quarters of the cases, child protection workers actually were notified but they didn’t take protective measures as specified in the federal law.
“Being born drug-dependent didn’t kill these children,” the report said. “Each recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital. What sealed their fates was being sent home to families ill-equipped to care for them.”
One of the reasons babies go unprotected is because many states don’t require hospitals to report drug-dependent newborns if the mother was addicted to a prescribed medication, such as methadone or addictive narcotic painkillers. But they might make a report if the mother was abusing an illicit drug like heroin.
This local policy comes from “a well-meaning effort to avoid stigmatizing mothers who are being treated for addiction or other medical problems,” the report said. But as the report says, these good intentions ignore a difficult and deadly truth. A new mother addicted to prescribed methadone can be just as dangerous to her infant as a mother hooked on heroin.
Reuters found that in more than a third of infant deaths, the mother was taking methadone or another prescribed drug, including benzodiazapines like Xanax or addictive painkillers like Percocet.
The problem is addiction. The drug or where it comes from is not really pertinent.
Bottom line: Something can be done about it
There are some bright lights at the end of this dark-looking tunnel.
The White House Heroin Response Strategy was unveiled last year, which includes some educational and treatment grants that look promising. Although the program was criticized by some as inadequate in light of the seriousness of the “heroin epidemic,” many others praised the pilot program as a good start that could lead to better things.
Also, there’s a movement afoot in America to bring addiction out of the closet to help end the stigma and increase addicts’ chances for recovery. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the Mall in Washington, D.C. recently to support a new national grassroots effort to improve the whole addiction treatment scene.
And here at Novus, we’ve made significant breakthroughs in medical drug detox. Our innovations offer the most comfortable, safe, effective and confidential detox available. Don’t hesitate to call Novus and get some help if you or someone you care for has a problem with addiction or dependence. We’re always here to help.
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