Rep Clark, Sen McConnell, Sen Casey, Rep Stivers introduce bill to help newborns suffering from opiate dependency

Washington, D.C.  – Today, Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D- MA), Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced the Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015, legislation that takes proactive steps to help hospitals diagnose and treat newborns suffering from opiate exposure. Reports show the significant rise of opiate abuse has led to an alarming increase of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). Babies born with NAS are hospitalized for weeks and can suffer from seizures, respiratory impairments, tremors, fever, and difficulty feeding. Because there is no standardized diagnosis and treatment for these newborns, hospitals across the country have begun piecing together their own treatments in response to the surge of NAS births. A 2012 report by Journal of the American Medical Association found that the average hospital costs for newborns suffering from NAS were five times greater than other hospital births. The report also found that Medicaid was the primary payer for over 75% of charges. 

The bipartisan, bicameral Protecting Our Infants Act directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify and make available best practices for the diagnosis and treatment of NAS, evaluate and coordinate federal efforts to research and respond to NAS, and assist state health agencies with their data collection efforts.

“There is nothing political or partisan about the opiate epidemic or the babies who are suffering its devastating effects,” said Clark. “The partners we’ve made across the aisle, across chambers, and with doctors throughout the country are ready to fight for the children and families impacted by this epidemic, and we’re pushing Congress to take action. The Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015 is a common sense approach to determining how to best care for these newborns while also addressing the enormous cost of that care.”

“Researchers estimate that more than one baby every hour is now born dependent on drugs and suffering from withdrawal. This statistic is just heart-breaking. These children are the most innocent members of our society, and we have to protect them,” Senator McConnell said. “No piece of legislation could ever solve this challenge overnight. But the bipartisan Protecting Our Infants Act can move our country in the right direction. I look forward to working with Senator Casey and Representatives Clark and Stivers to advance this important measure through Congress.”

“Children with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and their families go through an unimaginable struggle but there’s far too little known about how to prevent and treat this condition,” Senator Casey said. “This bipartisan legislation is an important step in our efforts to help these vulnerable children and their families.”

“The nation is under siege from an opiate addiction epidemic and it is rampant in many states, including Ohio, where drug overdoses are at an all-time high,” said Stivers.  “This is why I sponsored this important legislation, which would help decrease the number of babies born addicted to drugs.  As a father of two young children I understand just how serious this issue is—it not only affects families, but also our communities, states and the nation as a whole.  I am excited Majority Leader McConnell and Senator Casey have joined in this effort to combat NAS."

The Protecting Our Infants Act has garnered the support of national doctors groups advocating for the health and safety of children and mothers. The March of Dimes, the  American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) are backing the bipartisan bill.

“Pediatricians understand that the foundation for lifelong health begins with the health of the mother and that infancy is a crucial developmental period where adverse events can alter their health course into adulthood. The rise of maternal opioid use has led to one infant each hour being diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and therefore we must do more to help children families affected by substance use and abuse,” said AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP. “Pediatricians joined with obstetricians and gynecologists and advocates from the March of Dimes to urge Congress to take action, and act they did. We thank Representatives Clark and Stivers and Leader McConnell and Senator Casey for their bipartisan leadership in introducing the Protecting Our Infants Act, which makes needed strides to identify and treat infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome. The AAP looks forward to working with both chambers of Congress to advance this bill into law.”

"Greater attention and effective action have long been needed to address the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse at any time, especially during pregnancy. The most important goal while addressing opioid use during pregnancy must remain to ensure a healthy outcome for both mother and baby and encourage a woman’s access to non-punitive, family-centered medical treatment," said ACOG President John C. Jennings, MD. "By introducing the Protecting Our Infants Act, Representatives Clark and Stivers and Leader McConnell and Senator Casey have taken important steps toward solving the problem of neonatal abstinence syndrome and better understanding and addressing opioid use during pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists joins with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the March of Dimes to thank Representatives Clark and Stivers and Leader McConnell and Senator Casey for their bipartisan leadership and looks forward to working to ensure that this important legislation becomes law."

“Each year, thousands of newborns are suffering neonatal abstinence syndrome because they were exposed to opioids or other substances in utero,” stated March of Dimes President Jennifer L. Howse, PhD. “Our current lack of understanding about neonatal abstinence syndrome is hampering efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat this syndrome.  The Protecting Our Infants Act will accelerate work to develop and disseminate best practices, and ultimately help both to prevent neonatal abstinence syndrome and to treat those babies affected.  The March of Dimes commends Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Bob Casey, as well as Representatives Katherine Clark and Steve Stivers, for their leadership on this important issue.”

Full text of the Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015 can be found here.