Senate Passes Legislation to Address the Heroin Epidemic and its Effect on Health of Mothers and Infants

Bipartisan Bill Cosponsored by Senator Collins would help confront the growing crisis of opioid abuse among pregnant women and its effect on newborn babies

      WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the Senate passed the Protecting our Infants Act, a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, that would help address the growing crisis of opioid use and abuse among pregnant women and its effect on newborn babies. The bill was unanimously advanced by the HELP Committee on September 30, 2015.
     Prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse has increased throughout Maine and across our country, and opioid use during pregnancy is on the rise. Newborns whose mothers use opioids during pregnancy can experience neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition that can result in poor intrauterine growth, premature birth, seizures, birth defects, and withdrawal symptoms after birth. 
      “The Protecting our Infants Act will help some of our most vulnerable children receive the best possible start in life,” said Senator Collins. “I have seen the heart-breaking videos of addicted newborns crying inconsolably. Sadly, 995 babies suffering from addiction have been born in Maine already this 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 University 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 among 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 Government Accountability Office released a report on prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome, which discusses 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 the 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 the 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 the public health response: This legislation authorizes the 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.