Donnelly: ‘We must help the youngest victims of opioid epidemic’

Washington, D.C. —U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly today announced his support for bipartisan legislation that would help address growing prenatal opioid abuse and assist newborns suffering from opioid withdrawal and painful symptoms associated with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).  This is the latest effort in Donnelly’s work to combat the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics.

Donnelly said, “Dependency and addiction to opioids and prescription drugs impacts not only mothers but also their newborn children. As prescription drug abuse and heroin use have risen, so has the number of babies born dependent on opioids and suffering from withdrawal. We must help the youngest victims of the opioid epidemic, and the Protecting Our Infants Act would be a step forward, strengthening our efforts to respond to this heartbreaking problem.”

The bipartisan Protecting Our Infants Act, introduced earlier this year by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), would:

  • Direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop recommendations for preventing and treating prenatal opioid abuse and NAS;
  • Direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to lead a review of departmental planning and coordination and prepare a strategy to address research and program gaps. This effort would implement a February 2015 recommendation by the Government Accountability Office that calls for better planning and coordination at the federal level to address the rise in prenatal opioid abuse and NAS; and
  • Encourage the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work with states to help them improve their data collection and public health response to NAS.

A bipartisan House companion bill also has been introduced.

According to the most recent studies, there are a growing number of newborns who are suffering from drug dependency. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April found the rate of neonatal ICU admissions for babies experiencing withdrawal almost quadrupled between 2004 and 2013.  According to a study published in April in the Journal of Perinatology, a baby is born with drug withdrawal every 25 minutes in the U.S.

In Indianapolis, a number of hospital officials have reported seeing an increase in babies with NAS, according to the Indy Star. Franciscan St. Francis Health in Indianapolis says that as of a few years ago, it saw a handful of NAS cases a year, and now on any given day may see two or three babies suffering from drug withdrawal. Officials at Eskenazi Health in Downtown Indianapolis said that this year the hospital is on pace to see a 22 percent increase in the number of newborns with dependency withdrawal.

Prenatal use of opioids, including heroin and opioids prescribed for pain management can result in babies being hospitalized for weeks and suffering from symptoms of withdrawal including, seizures, tremors, irritability, vomiting, sleep problems, and difficulty feeding, among other issues. NAS can be caused by the legitimate use of prescription painkillers by a mother during pregnancy, abuse of prescription opioids, or from the use of other opioids like heroin.

Donnelly has been working to address the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics.  He reintroduced the bipartisan Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act with Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) in April. Their bill would take a multi-pronged approach to help prevent opioid abuse and heroin use. Learn more about the legislation, here.


About Brian Scott

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