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October 21, 2013

Keeping babies safe from RX painkillers

Task force plans to push for more legislative remedies.

INDIANAPOLIS – Alarmed by the number of infants in Indiana born addicted to prescription painkillers, a task force of medical and legal experts may push for a new law that would provide some protection for drug-abusing pregnant women who voluntarily seek and stay in treatment for their addiction.

Such a measure is still being considered by the Attorney General’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, which pushed for the new state rules that call for drug-testing of pain-medication patients and closer monitoring of those patients by doctors.

At a meeting Monday, members of the legislative Commission on Mental Health and Addiction heard from task force coordinator Natalie Robinson, who said the incidence of babies born dependent on narcotics may have reached epidemic levels in Indiana.

The condition, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, of NAS, poses a higher risk of harm and complications for the infant, including premature birth and birth defects. “Even more startling than the higher risks is the pain and suffering that a newborn with NAS endures after birth,” Robinson said.

Currently, the state isn’t required to track the numbers of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. But Indiana hospitals say the annual cost of treating babies with NAS has gone from $2 million in 2002 to $28 million in 2010 – with much of that cost picked up by taxpayers through the Medicaid program.

Robinson also said the state’s largest neonatal intensive unit – at Riley Hospital for Children – has gone from seeing about one case a year of a narcotic-addicted infant to one a week over the last decade.

The Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force was formed in 2011, after the state saw a 10 percent increase in the number of prescription drug overdose deaths from the year before. A new report released by the Trust for America’s Health ranks Indiana in the top five states for fastest-growing rate of drug overdose deaths, with prescription drugs accounting for most of the those deaths.

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