TN lawmakers seeking ways to reduce the number of babies born dependent on drugs

Caring for Babies with NAS (Image 1)

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) -Tennessee lawmakers are looking for ways to get out of an expensive cycle.

According to TennCare, it pays for about half of all births in the state. TennCare said in 2015 it paid for the birth of nearly 1,200 babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS, that’s about $53 million state dollars. Nearly 70 percent of those babies came from East Tennessee.

Senator Rusty Crowe of Johnson City recently passed legislation requiring TennCare to send out a “Request for Information” seeking to find out what different groups across the state are doing around the issue, to try and find a cohesive solution.

“We are very aware now that we have a problem,” Crowe said. “We have to come up with a solution on this, it’s not workable the way it is.”

Already this year, more than 600 babies have been born dependent on drugs, facing withdrawals the minute they enter this world. Babies born with NAS can come from moms on legal and illegal drugs.

Right now, leading pediatric journals say getting off opioids while pregnant causes severe stress to the mom and the baby and recommend keeping moms on opioids or medication assisted treatment while pregnant.

According to TennCare, it pays for moms to continue opioid prescriptions while pregnant then pays about $44,000 for the birth of each baby born dependent on those drugs.

“One it’s costing so much in human potential it’s just an issue of compassion, but two it’s very financially important for our state to understand how costly these children born addicted to drugs are to the taxpayers of the state. We have to get out in front of this problem,” TN Speaker of the House and candidate for governor Beth Harwell said.

“For the state to be paying for TennCare treatments and then having to pay even more when the babies are born to try to treat the mom and the baby and get them clean is it’s just crazy,” Crowe said.

“Total inconsistency and I think you’ll find in the task force that we will recommend that change,” Harwell said.

A committee will meet after getting the information TennCare received, then decide if legislation or rules are necessary moving forward.

“One of the solutions I think we’re going to have to work on is to making sure those moms are getting proper counseling and birth control assistance that they need,” Crowe said.

Crowe said he would like to see more oversight from the state at medication assisted treatment clinics and cash-only clinics that give methadone and suboxone prescriptions.

According to the state, 435 of the moms who gave birth to drug dependent babies this year were on medication assisted treatment while pregnant. Medication assisted treatment includes drugs like suboxone and methadone used to treat opioid-dependency.

This past year a state mandate put in rules for suboxone clinics, but Crowe said it’s not enough.

“The state knows how much they’re charging and how many people they’re dealing with and that sort of thing but that doesn’t provide for the oversight that might be needed to make sure they’re doing the proper counseling,” Crowe said.

TennCare will present the information they get to the legislature this upcoming session. Then Crowe said lawmakers will likely develop legislation as a result.

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