Our View: Drug-addicted babies should be concern for Ky. lawmakers

Published 7:59 am Tuesday, January 17, 2017

According to a research letter in the JAMA Pediatrics journal, and as reported by the Courier-Journal over the weekend, babies in Kentucky are more than twice as likely to be born addicted to drugs compared to babies born elsewhere in the United States.

The letter reports figures from 2013, the last year for which comparative figures are available, showing there were about 15 cases of addiction per 1,000 live births compared to the national rate of 7.3.

The Courier-Journal’s Laura Ungar reported the rates were both up substantially from five years earlier and Kentucky’s rate increased 40 percent in 2014.

During the year ending July 30, 2015, more than 1,200 drug-dependent infants were reported to the state health department.

The C-J also reported in 2012 a 2,400 percent increase over 11 years in hospitalizations for drug-dependent newborns in Kentucky.

Throughout the state, the drug epidemic is taking a toll on communities. It’s happening in our own backyards and, for many, in their own homes. This new research sheds light on something many of us knew but may have opted to ignore: the drug epidemic has made its way to the most innocent and fragile lives.

Ungar also reported only 30 of the 123 substance-abuse treatment facilities in Kentucky will treat pregnant or post-partum women, revealing a flaw in how our state addresses what is clearly a substantial problem.

As our legislators debate how to address the Affordable Care Act and what legislation will be enacted as a replacement, considering how to best address issues like these should be a priority.

Earlier this month, lawmakers passed laws offering protection for unborn babies over 20 weeks gestation. In order to prove a true concern for the lives of the unborn and babies, lawmakers now have to address this problem.

The best way to curb the drug problem is to provide more access to care and rehabilitation for drug-addicted mothers and, subsequently, their babies.

“In 2015, Kentucky became one of 11 states to receive up to $3 million in federal grants to provide expanded treatment to pregnant addicts,” the C-J reported. “That was in addition to $1 million in state funds for transitional care and other services that came from an appropriation in the anti-heroin bill passed that year. And on Wednesday, state officials announced they will apply for up to $10 million in federal SAMHSA funding to fight the opioid epidemic, and one of their priorities if they get it will be to help pregnant addicts.”

It seems that the money is there, now it’s time to put it in action.

By repealing healthcare reform like the ACA, will lawmakers be creating even more hurdles for poor or underserved populations seeking drug treatment? How will those hurdles trickle down to the unborn and babies?

The answers will lie in what lawmakers opt to enact to replace the ACA, and we urge heavy consideration on how addressing our state’s drug epidemic can be incorporated into future healthcare reform.