Federal commission urges Congress and White House to improve care for newborns suffering drug withdrawal

Federal commission urges Congress and White House to improve care for newborns suffering drug withdrawal

Newborns are suffering and dying from drug withdrawal, and Congress and the White House need to strengthen regulations governing their care and protection, says a federal commission studying child neglect and abuse. The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF) has released its report after two years of study. It’s clear that in many areas of the country, infants who are born in drug withdrawal, and also their drug-using mothers, are not getting the care they require. As a result, babies are dying and families are suffering. The Commission was established by law under the new Protect Our Kids Act of 2012, and was tasked with finding ways to reduce childhood fatalities resulting from abuse and neglect.

During its research, the commission uncovered evidence of widespread inadequate care for newborns suffering from drug withdrawal. Newborns exposed to addictive prescription or illicit drugs consumed by mothers during pregnancy can suffer a wide range of physiologic and neurobehavioral side effects. After they’re born, they are immersed in a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which essentially means “this baby is going cold turkey.” NAS is a horribly uncomfortable experience, and it can be life threatening. Specially trained neonatal doctors and nurses are required to get newborns through the dangerous withdrawal period, which can last from days to weeks.

The problem, says the commission, that far too many babies are being born with NAS and not receiving the care they so urgently need to stay alive. In the CECANF report, titled Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, the commission said that as many as eight children die of abuse and neglect of all kinds every day, and that if nothing is done to change our ways, 1,500 to 3,000 American children will needlessly die this year. As for the numbers of drug-affected newborns, CECANF was strongly motivated by a Reuters news service investigation last year which revealed that 130,000 babies have been born addicted to opioids over the past decade, and hundreds of them have died.

A Novus article reported on this investigation in February. “A baby is born dependent on opioids every 19 minutes, but doctors aren’t alerting social services to thousands of these infants, many of whom come to harm in families shattered by narcotics,” Reuters said. That report motivated CECANF to investigate these “deadly failures to protect drug-affected newborns or help their families,” said CECANF chairman David Sanders. “It became clear to people why it was important.” Some states are worse off than others. And as we reported a year ago, the CDC says the rate of opioid-addicted newborns in Florida exceeds US levels, while only 10 percent of mothers get the treatment they need. CECANF recommends that the federal Children’s Bureau should report directly to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. It also urges Congress to hold hearings, and to increase funding for family services – some commissioners pressing for $1 billion in new funding. “We can't sit here and think we're going to make a difference and put zero dollars toward it," said Theresa Covington, a presidential appointee and director of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told a House committee a few days before the release of the CECANF report that the agency is “improving oversight and investigating some states” in response to the Reuters investigative articles. Also, a U.S. Senate committee approved legislation expanding safety plans for drug-affected newborns. Here at Novus, we don’t provide detox services for expectant mothers – that’s strictly a problem for specialized hospital care.

At novus, our focus is on helping people get clear of drugs and get their lives back. If you or someone you care for needs help with substance abuse or dependence, please don’t hesitate – call us right away. We’re always here to help.

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