Kentucky has a growing prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse problem, and the scope of the problem is shocking. Our state has the nation’s third-highest mortality rate from drug overdoses, which are largely driven by prescription painkillers. According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, about 1,000 Kentuckians a year fatally overdose on drugs—that’s more than are lost to fatal car crashes. Heroin deaths continue to climb and accounted for 32 percent of the drug overdose deaths last year.
Earlier this year, I convened a listening session in Kentucky to hear from those closest to the problem, including professionals in the medical, public health, and law-enforcement fields as well as a brave young man who managed to break free from heroin addiction after seeing his friends overdose.
One issue that was raised during this session that particularly caught my sympathies was the increasing number of infants being born in Kentucky dependent on opiates in the form of prescription painkillers and heroin. Researchers estimate that one baby every hour is now born nationwide dependent on drugs and suffering from withdrawal.
According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the number of hospitalizations due to newborn withdrawal in the Commonwealth increased from 29 in 2000 to more than 950 in 2013—a more than 3,000 percent increase, and an indicator of a very alarming trend.
The situation is just heart-breaking. I say that especially as the father of three daughters. These children are the most innocent members of our society, and we must do all we can to protect them.
Thankfully, Kentucky is taking this problem seriously. Both the Kentucky Perinatal Association and the Kentucky Perinatal Quality Initiative Collaborative are dedicated to reducing the number of infants born dependent on opiates. I applaud their efforts. And I believe we can do more at the federal level to aid and assist their work. Maternal addiction and infant opiate dependency are epidemics that can best be overcome by effective coordination between those dedicated to fighting them at the state and federal levels.
That’s why I recently introduced the Protecting Our Infants Act in the U.S. Senate, which is designed to address the scourge of opiate addiction in newborns, as well as their mothers.
My bill will help identify and disseminate recommendations for preventing and treating maternal addiction so that we can reduce the number of infants born dependent on opiates and other drugs. The bill would promote recommendations as to how to identify these babies born suffering from withdrawal, and how best to treat them.
Also, because I heard during my listening session and in other forums about the importance of more research into infant withdrawal and its long-term effects, my bill would shine a spotlight on the problem and encourage more leadership from the federal government on this public health crisis.
The Protecting Our Infants Act would also encourage the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with states to improve the availability and quality of research data to help them respond more effectively to this public health epidemic.
While there’s still more to be done, I believe my bill is a step in the right direction to help ensure that our public health system is better equipped to prevent and treat maternal opiate addiction and the resulting infants that are born dependent on opiates.
We certainly must do all we can to confront the human tragedy of babies born dependent on opiates and suffering from withdrawal. Helping the most innocent among us is our moral duty as caring members of society.