Headed to House: Stargel Bill Targets Addicted Babies

by Symptom Advice on February 12, 2012

Measure seeks study of newborns hurt by mothers’ prescription drugs. Published: Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 1:27 a.m. last Modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 1:27 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE | Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is taking the offensive against a growing health problem in Florida: Newborns addicted to their mothers’ prescription drugs.

Stargel’s task force bill, which asks for a study on the situation, will go before the full House of Representatives for a vote next week.

This developing crisis is different from 20 years ago when the focus was on children born to crack and methamphetamine addicts.

Instead, Stargel said, Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome or Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome are more often associated with “soccer moms” and professional women.

The task force was urged by Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Stargel said that because of the prescription drug abuse in Florida, hospitals and health care providers are seeing a drastic increase in the number of babies being born who are suffering from the effects of drugs taken by their mothers during pregnancy.

“This is a different kind of addiction from crack and meth,” Stargel said. “This situation is from prescription drugs. we are not ?looking at creating criminal laws here; we want to understand the problem and help mothers understand and know how a legally prescribed drug for back trouble or maybe knee injury can affect their baby.”

There has to be education, she said.

“One thing we’ve learned is that some mothers immediately stop taking the prescription (when they learn they are pregnant), but that, too, can harm the baby. so we need to find the answers and get them to the mothers,” Stargel said.

According to a slide presentation “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome” by Dr. Osama Naga of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, the drugs oxycodone, methadone, morphine, codeine and buprenorhine are the most frequent causes of Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome.

Symptoms can include tremors, increased wakefulness, increased muscle tone, seizures and increased sweating. It is described as “a multisystem disorder involving the central nervous system, gastrointestinal system and the respiratory system,” brought on by drugs used by the mother and passed to the fetus.

Stargel’s bill, House Bill 227, the Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns, has cleared three committees and is expected to come before the full House next week.

It would create a task force to collect and study data on Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome in Florida and ways to make the public and especially expectant mothers more aware.

The task force would be charged specifically with developing policy to be recommended to the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate to be implemented by the Legislature.

“It is something people can innocently find themselves in,” said Lisa Patterson, public affairs officer for St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa. “There are all kinds of scenarios that can lead to this by people who quite necessarily are taking medications during pregnancy or become addicted to them.”

The Senate bill, SB 402, by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also is awaiting a floor vote. Negron said he witnessed the problem firsthand.

“Often we wait until a major crisis drops on us,” Negron said, “but we are starting on this in the early stages. I happened to visit a neonatal unit in South Florida and there was one baby there red-faced and looking very stressed and shaking. The nurse said the baby had been born addicted to prescription drugs.

“It is extremely painful to the baby, especially when being taken off the addiction. Life is tough enough. Everyone deserves to start out in life evenly,” said Negron who called it his most important bill of the session.

Even though the bill has widespread support, sponsors say they are moving as fast as they can. A lot of “good bills” have been caught in the door when the final week’s rush of bills begins.

[ Bill Rufty can be contacted at bill.rufty@theledger.com or 863-802-7523. ]

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