Casey addresses infant addiction
U.S. Senator Bob Casey visited the Lehigh Valley Health Network Aug. 5 to speak about the infant opioid dependency epidemic and a new bill which seeks to find solutions to the problem. Casey, a Democrat and the state’s senior senator, addressed a small audience of colleagues and press attendees on the recent accomplishments that have been made in the field. Throughout his address, Casey urged people to come together on the issue regardless of their political positions.
“We all must be summoned by our conscience to do something, not just about the larger challenge of addiction and opioid abuse, but in particular what happens to newborns.”
Casey focused on the rising epidemic of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). The number of infants affected by the disease has increased by 300 percent over the last 15 years. Researchers estimate that 1 baby every 25 minutes is born dependent on drugs and suffering from withdrawal. Nearly 900 more babies have been born with opioid addictions in the last four years.
According to Migdalia Resto, MD, a neonatologist with LVHN, newborns suffering from NAS suffer from seizures, excessive crying, diarrhea, vomiting and sleeping issues. It takes up to six months for newborns to withdrawal safely from opioids, leading to long and expensive stays in hospitals.
Casey highlighted a bipartisan agreement with Republican Majority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell in which they banded together to get legislation passed which would help alleviate the problem. The product of their collaboration, “Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015,” was recently signed into law by President Obama.
The bill directed Sylvia Matthews Burrell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, to review departmental planning related to NAS and develop a strategy to address gaps and overlaps in existing federal programs.
“There’s no reason to create a new program if we already have a program in existence – or pieces of it – throughout the federal government.”
The bill also directs the secretary to develop recommendations for preventing and treating mothers and newborns dealing with opioid dependencies, as well as how to prevent women of reproductive age from using opioids.
“This is but a start on a much more complicated issue than one bill could encapsulate,” Casey said.
Casey also focused on the general challenge of opioid abuse itself, citing the recent Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act as a step in the right direction toward this issue, even though it has yet to receive funding due to bipartisan deadlock.
“We need to get people in both parties to agree to allocate and appropriate at least the $600 million that I and others voted for,” Casey said. “It’s what the treatment professionals are asking us for. It’s what the law enforcement professionals are asking us for.”