NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A task force of state health officials is trying to reverse an alarming rise in the number of babies born addicted to drugs in Tennessee.
Babies born addicted suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, often spending many days in the hospital as they go through the painful withdrawal process, experiencing seizures, tremors, fever and vomiting.
Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said the number of addicted babies increased tenfold between 2000 and 2010, going from 57 to 524.
To combat the growing problem, state health officials also have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to place a black box warning on prescription painkillers that alerts physicians to the harm they can cause a fetus.
Dreyzehner said they hope that labeling and other changes can help prevent unintended opioid use and unintended pregnancies in women who are at-risk of giving birth to an addicted baby.
Many of the women giving birth to addicted babies received at least some medication legally. About 67 percent of women on TennCare had at least one opioid prescription in the year prior to giving birth.
"Most did not start out with the intent to abuse drugs," Dreyzehner said.
Also, of the women on TennCare receiving prescriptions for more than 30 days of pain killers, 80 percent or more were not prescribed any form of birth control.
Dreyzehner said TennCare already has taken the step of requiring doctors to get preauthorization before prescribing opiates to women of childbearing age. And the General Assembly earlier this year passed a law that will require all physicians to consult a database when prescribing certain medications, beginning in April.
Beginning on Jan. 1, the Health Department will require providers to report babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. That will allow health officials to identify cases more quickly and target interventions in the parts of the state where they are most needed. Officials currently rely on hospital discharge and TennCare claims data that can take months to come in.
Dreyzherner said the reporting change is not intended to target mothers and will not affect the current system for reporting suspected abuse and neglect.
"Under the circumstances, it is of no benefit to anyone to demonize the women who give birth to a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome," he said.
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