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Washington, DC- Today U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced legislation to address the rise of prenatal opioid abuse and infants suffering from opioid withdrawal. 

The bipartisan Protecting Our Infants Act would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop recommendations for preventing and treating prenatal opioid abuse and for treating infants born dependent on opioids.  The measure would also direct the HHS Secretary to lead a review of departmental planning and coordination and develop a strategy to address research and program gaps, which is a recommendation that was made in a Government Accountability Office report last month.  Finally, the bill would encourage the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work with states to help them improved surveillance and data collection activities regarding this problem.

Nationwide, there has been a staggering 300-percent increase in the number of infants diagnosed with newborn withdrawal since 2000. In Kentucky, that number grew by an almost 3,000 percent -- from 29 infants identified as suffering from drug withdrawal annually to more than 950, and experts believe there are even more cases that go unreported. In Pennsylvania, the number of addicted births covered by Medicaid rose from 883 in 2010 to 1,122 in 2012, according to the Department of Public Welfare.

“Children suffering from opioid withdrawal 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. I appreciate the opportunity to work with Senator McConnell in a bipartisan fashion on this important priority.”

“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 help move our country in the right direction. I want to thank Senator Casey for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with him to advance this important measure through Congress.”

Identical bipartisan legislation was introduced today in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5) and Congressman Steve Stivers (OH-15).

The Protecting Our Infants Act is supported by the March of Dimes, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.