It's been called a problem of epidemic proportions in Tennessee - thousands of babies going through withdrawal symptoms at the hands of drug-addicted mothers.
According to Tennessee Department of Health Statistics, the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) over the past 10 years, has increased nearly ten-fold - placing a heavy burden on state's taxpayers who pay for health care.
News Channel 11's Kylie McGivern examined what some legislators are doing now, to promote change.
The Safe Harbor Act of 2013 deals with the treatment of pregnant women addicted to prescription drugs. Rather than the Department of Child Services taking the newborn and other children away, putting the mother behind bars, the incentive is to get women into treatment to make life changes.
Tightening its grasp on East Tennessee, prescription drug addiction is choking the lives of mothers.
"What folks are seeing in the NICU that's just the beginning. That is the beginning of the pain in the lives of these children - and the cost to society. Whether the baby's laying in the little carrier, obviously withdrawing, or they're being left along while the mom's going out and getting high. It's just the beginning of a very long, dark, troubling road that CAN be prevented," Families Free Director Lisa Tipton said.
For years many have white-knuckled through addiction, hoping to hold on, hold it together for their families.
"I was in total and complete denial about what would happen to me," recovering addict Karri Hayes said.
The Safe Harbor Act is meant to help women like Hayes - getting pregnant women treatment early.
"This is... Um... So hard for me to talk about publicly. Although I do want to help women - women in the same situation I was in, in the past, I also feel like if I would have received treatment earlier on, that things would have turned out different. Because - I DON'T have my kids today. That is the hard, the hard truth of it. I don't have them. And maybe they wouldn't have, they wouldn't have been taken from me if I would have made better choices and better decisions," Hayes said.
As of Friday, Hayes is proudly 11 months sober. But Tipton says the road to recovery could now be smoother for other women.
"If when they were in a situation, where they were using and were pregnant, someone would have said 'This is the time that you need to get some help,' rather than five years later, two children later, and a three year jail sentence," Tipton said.
"Once they have been incarcerated, their children have been put in foster care, there's been a lot of damage done - and there's a lot of money that has been spent by the state of Tennessee," Maggie McNally, of Families Free said.
Dr. Stephen Loyd, ETSU Quillen College of Medicine Associate Professor, works with addicted pregnant women at High Point Clinic (not-for-profit) in Johnson City.
"I was four months pregnant, and I finally felt him (baby) move, and that, that was my turning point," Greeneville resident and Loyd's patient said.
"The earlier we can get to them and know there's an opiate problem, the sooner we can get them comfortable on medication to help quell their cravings and help suppress the withdrawal symptoms," Loyd said.
Loyd says even through the medical field, the culture of judgment must be broken.
"To be judged and to be talked down to like we wouldn't to any other type of patients, only furthers their shame. And a lot of my women are dealing with shame to start with."
"The vast majority that I see want to do the right thing. They have no idea how to get any help. And to be honest with you, when I was addicted to narcotics myself, I had been to medical school and residency, and I didn't have any idea how to get help," Loyd said.
"You can break the pattern, and do something for yourself. And I think this act will help," Hayes said.
The Safe Harbor Act now moves to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, for a vote on Tuesday.
Read the full House Bill here:
HOUSE BILL 277
AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 33;
Title 36 and Title 37, relative to Neonatal
BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
WHEREAS, the Tennessee General Assembly declares that the growing misuse of
prescription drugs by pregnant women leads too often to drug-affected infants with neonatal
abstinence syndrome, that adversely affects the health and welfare of the newborn and places a
heavy financial burden on Tennessee's taxpayers and those who pay for health care, so it is the
policy of this state to take effective action that will minimize these costs; and
WHEREAS, special attention must be focused on preventive programs and services
directed at pregnant women at risk of becoming prescription drug abusers and misusers as well
as on pregnant women who use these substances or who are at risk of substance use or abuse;
BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
SECTION 1. This act shall be known as the "Safe Harbor Act of 2013".
SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 33-10-104, is amended by adding
the following new subsection:
(1) Notwithstanding subsection (e), a pregnant woman referred for drug
abuse or drug dependence treatment at any treatment resource that receives
public funding shall be a priority user of available treatment. All records and
reports regarding such pregnant woman shall be kept confidential. The
department of mental health and substance abuse services shall ensure that
family-oriented drug abuse or drug dependence treatment is available, as
appropriations allow. A treatment resource that receives public funds shall not
refuse to treat a person solely because the person is pregnant as long as
appropriate services are offered by the treatment resource.
(2) If during prenatal care, the attending obstetrical provider determines
no later than the end of the twentieth week of pregnancy that the patient has
used prescription drugs which may place the fetus in jeopardy, and drug abuse
or drug dependence treatment is indicated, the provider shall encourage
counseling, drug abuse or drug dependence treatment and other assistance to
(A) If the patient initiates drug abuse or drug dependence
treatment based upon a clinical assessment prior to her next regularly scheduled
prenatal visit and maintains compliance with both drug abuse
or drug dependence treatment based on a clinical assessment as well as
prenatal care throughout the remaining term of the pregnancy, then the
department of children's services shall not file any petition to terminate
the mother's parental rights or otherwise seek protection of the newborn
solely because of the patient's use of prescription drugs for non-medical
purposes during the term of her pregnancy.
(B) Notwithstanding subdivision (f)(2)(A), nothing shall prevent
the department of children's services from filing any petition to terminate
the mother's parental rights or seek protection of the newborn should the
department determine that the newborn's mother, or any other adult
caring for the newborn, is unfit to properly care for such child.
(3) Any physician or other health care provider who does not recognize
that the pregnant woman has used prescription drugs that place the fetus in
jeopardy, or who complies with the provisions of this subsection, or any physician
or facility that initiates substance abuse treatment consistent with community
standards of care pursuant to this subsection, shall be presumed to be acting in
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good faith and shall have immunity from any civil liability that might otherwise
result by reason of such actions.
(4) The commissioner of mental health and substance abuse services is
authorized to promulgate emergency rules and regulations to effectuate the
purposes of this act. All such rules and regulations shall be promulgated in
accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 4, Chapter 5.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect on becoming law, the public welfare requiring it.