Treatment is best option to fight babies born addicted to drugs
The old argument between treatment and punishment is at the core of legislative efforts to deal with Tennessee’s epidemic of children born addicted to prescription drugs.
Treatment wins, hands down.
“Epidemic” is not too strong a word. The number of reported cases of addicted newborns has increased by tenfold over the last decade. In the past two years, more than a thousand incidents have been reported, mostly involving narcotic painkillers that can cause seizures, vomiting and hyperactivity in babies.
Lawmakers have opposite plans for what to do about it.
One group, supported by doctors and health advocates, wants a “Safe Harbor Act” to give pregnant women incentives to take part in drug treatment programs. A bill would give these women priority for participation and guarantee them that their children won’t be taken away solely because of the drug use, as long as they continue treatment.
Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, want to be allowed to file criminal charges against women whose drug use harms newborns.
It’s obvious that something needs to be done. About one in five of children born with what doctors call neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, ends up in state custody. It’s a major reason why the number of children held as wards of the state has increased by more than a third since 2006.
Drug-addicted newborns have average hospital bills six times that of a typical birth, The Tennessean in Nashville reported. Most of the costs are covered by taxpayers through the TennCare program.
“We’ve got to give people an incentive to get cleaned up,” the sponsor of the Safe Harbor initiative said. The state health commissioner agreed: “We cannot arrest our way out of the problem. I don’t think we benefit mother or children by discouraging women from seeking prenatal care in any way. I think our cost goes up if we take that tack.”
That approach makes more sense than prosecuting addicted mothers. Punishment sometimes can be an incentive to obey the law, but a child’s welfare would seem to be better protected by treatment.
-The Paris Post-Intelligencer