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Bipartisan Bill Would Address the Rise of Prenatal Opioid Abuse and Infants Suffering from Opioid Withdrawal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced today their bipartisan legislation, the Protecting Our Infants Act, was approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). The Senators introduced the bill earlier this year, and it’s expected to be considered by the full Senate soon.

The bipartisan Protecting Our Infants Act would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to lead a review of departmental planning and coordination and develop a strategy to address research and program gaps in addressing prenatal opioid abuse.  The Secretary of HHS would then be tasked with coordinating with stakeholders to develop recommendations for preventing and treating prenatal opioid abuse and for treating infants born dependent on opioids.  Finally, the bill would encourage the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work with states to help them improve their public health response to 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 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.

“I want to thank my Senate colleagues on the HELP Committee for approving this important legislation. 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 and the bipartisan Protecting Our Infants Act can help protect them,” Senator McConnell said. “I look forward to continue working with Senator Casey as we prepare to advance this important measure through the full Senate.”

“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. “Advancing this 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 an issue that impacts children and families across the nation.”

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