The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday co-sponsored by Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King that seeks to focus federal efforts on reducing the number of infants who experience opiate withdrawal when they are born.

One of the consequences of the epidemic in opiate addiction in Maine and many other states has been a surge in the number of babies who suffer the effects of their mothers using drugs while pregnant. State figures released in September said there were 995 drug-affected babies born in Maine in 2015, up from 178 in 2006.

Studies say medical care for a baby suffering from opiate withdrawal, called neonatal abstinence syndrome, is more than five times as expensive as for other newborns, with most of those costs borne by Medicaid.

The Protecting Our Infants Act instructs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the problem, focusing on gaps in research and gaps and duplication in treatment and prevention programs. It also calls for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with states to improve data collection and implement public health measures to address the problem.

“I have seen the heart-breaking videos of addicted newborns crying inconsolably,” said Collins, R-Maine, a senior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which unanimously endorsed the bill. “Early intervention and effective treatment greatly improve the health outcomes for both mothers and babies in opioid withdrawal … This bill, aimed at prevention and treatment of opioid addiction, is a step in the right direction.”

King, I-Maine, said the act helps address an epidemic that is affecting not just users, but their families, friends and children.


“By developing an improved strategy to prevent opioid abuse and provide more comprehensive treatment, we can help mothers struggling with addictions and curb the disturbing rise of infants suffering from withdrawal,” he said in a statement.

The legislation would address deficiencies identified in a study released in February by the U.S. Government Accountability Office which said cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome have tripled over the past decade.

By 2012, infants born with the syndrome accounted for $1.5 billion in annual health care charges, according to a new Vanderbilt University study published in the Journal of Perinatology.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services also has called attention to the problem. A recent statement from the department noted that alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading known cause of preventable birth defects.

The March of Dimes, which supported the federal legislation, recommends that pregnant women using opiates alert their doctor. Stopping too quickly can be unhealthy for the unborn baby. It also recommends that women who are using opiates and are not pregnant use birth control to prevent having a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The bill now goes to the U.S. House.

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