Senate Committee Takes Action to Address Heroin Epidemic and its Effect on Health of Mothers and Infants

Bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senator Collins unanimously advanced by Senate HELP Committee

   WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously advanced the Protecting our Infants Act, a bipartisan bill cosponsored by senior Committee member Senator Susan Collins, that would help address the growing crisis of opioid use and abuse among pregnant women and its effect on newborn babies. The bill must now be considered by the full Senate.

          As the prevalence of prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse has increased throughout Maine and across our country, opioid use during pregnancy has also been on the rise. Opioid use during pregnancy can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome, in which the newborn experiences withdrawal symptoms after birth and additional symptoms that may include: poor intrauterine growth, premature birth, seizures, and birth defects.

          “The Protecting our Infants Act takes action to help give some of the most vulnerable children among us the best possible start in life,” said Senator Collins. “I have seen the heart-breaking videos of addicted newborns crying inconsolably. Sadly, approximately 900 babies suffering from addiction were born in Maine last year. The doctors and other health care providers treating them do an extraordinary job of helping these infants, but clearly more needs to be done to prevent this problem from occurring in the first place. This bill aimed at prevention and treatment of opioid addiction is a step in the right direction.”

          A recent Vanderbilt study found that the number of infants born in the U.S. with neonatal abstinence syndrome has nearly doubled in a four year period. According to the study, from 2009 to 2012, the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome in the U.S. rose from 3.4 births per 1,000 to 5.8 births per 1,000. In addition, health care costs for treating infants with opioid withdrawal symptoms rose from $731 million in 2009 to nearly $1.5 billion in 2012, 80 percent of which is borne by taxpayers, through state Medicaid programs.

          “Early intervention and effective treatment greatly improve the health outcomes for both mothers and babies in opioid withdrawal. This bipartisan legislation commissions a broad strategy to identify current gaps in prevention and treatment, improve coordination between federal programs, and help ensure that our public health system is best equipped to treat opioid addicted mothers and their babies in Maine and across our country,” Senator Collins continued.

          In February 2015, the GAO released a report on prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome, which discussed research gaps and the need for better coordination between federal prenatal opioid abuse programs.

 

The Protecting our Infants Act takes action in three ways:

1. Requires HHS Secretary to develop a comprehensive strategy: Following a review of planning and coordination, this bipartisan bill requires the HHS Secretary to develop a strategy to address gaps in research and gaps, overlap, and duplication in treatment and prevention programs for opioid abuse among pregnant women and its effect on newborn babies.

2. Requires HHS Secretary to bring together non-government partners: The HHS Secretary will be required to study and develop recommendations for the prevention and treatment of prenatal opioid use disorders, soliciting input from nongovernmental entities representing patients, health care providers, and treatment facilities.

3. Authorizes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to improve data collection and public health response: This legislation authorizes CDC to continue providing technical assistance to support states and tribes in collecting information on neonatal abstinence syndrome and implementing effective public health measures to address prenatal opioid use and neonatal abstinence syndrome.