U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers cosponsored and voted for the "Protecting Our Infants Act" (H.R. 1462) that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 8, 2015. The legislation is a response to the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse, and specifically, aims to reduce the instances and impact of drug withdrawal in newborn babies. The bill requires the development of a coordinated national effort to identify, treat and prevent prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
NAS is a collection of symptoms infants can experience as a result of prenatal drug exposure and addiction caused by the infant's mother abusing addictive drugs like heroin, methadone, and prescription painkillers while pregnant. Once born and the exposure ends, the infant can experience withdrawal symptoms. In the United States, the incidence of NAS has tragically risen from 1.20 per 1,000 hospital births in 2000 to 3.39 in 2009. According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the number of infants suffering from NAS in the Commonwealth rose from less than 30 in 2000 to more than 950 in 2013.
"This legislation will help support pregnant women who are addicted to powerful painkillers and treat their newborns who often suffer the heartbreaking consequences of withdrawal," said Rogers, who is the Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse. "We need to know the best way to help these mothers and protect their innocent babies from the seizures, tremors and the long-term complications they have from the powerful painkillers that enter their system. And we hope to have those answers within one year of passing this life-saving legislation."
Within one year of becoming law, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality must report on existing research of NAS, barriers to treatment for pregnant women who abuse painkillers, an evaluation of these mothers and their newborns, along with recommendations on preventing, identifying and treating NAS and opioid dependency in women.
Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services must develop a strategy to address gaps in research and programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must also provide technical assistance to states to improve NAS surveillance. With a national standard for treating NAS, the "Protecting Our Infants Act" will ultimately reduce healthcare costs and save lives.
The bill will now be considered in the U.S. Senate where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has sponsored companion legislation.