Government Urged to Strengthen Safeguards for Drug-Affected Babies

A commission appointed by President Obama and Congress urged the federal government to increase protections for drug-affected babies, Reuters reports.

The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities released a report that recommends six urgent actions, including the need for stronger care for newborns suffering drug withdrawal.

The report also recommends reviewing child abuse deaths in all states, assuring responses within 24 hours to any reports involving a child under age 1, and greater accountability from hospitals and health care workers.

Last week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the department is taking a more proactive approach to enforcing a federal law that requires states to report and protect drug-dependent babies.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee launched an inquiry into the federal government’s enforcement of a law designed to protect drug-dependent newborns. The inquiry is in response to a Reuters investigation that found 110 cases of babies and toddlers whose mothers used opioids during pregnancy, and later died preventable deaths.

In each case, the babies recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital, but were sent home to families not equipped to care for them.

The number of babies treated for the drug-withdrawal syndrome known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) has almost quadrupled in the last decade, according to a study published last year.

Babies born with NAS undergo withdrawal from the addictive drugs their mothers took during pregnancy, such as oxycodone, morphine or hydrocodone. NAS affected seven babies for every 1,000 admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit in 2004. That number jumped to 27 infants per 1,000 by 2013.

Reuters found that no more than nine states comply with a 2003 law that calls on hospitals to alert social workers whenever a baby is born dependent on drugs.

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