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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: January 6, 2017 12:23 PM
From: Representative Katharine M. Watson
To: All House members
Subject: Establishing a Task Force on Opioid Abuse Epidemic's Impact on Infants and Children
As you know, Pennsylvania has been one of the states hardest hit by an epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid abuse and addiction that is plaguing our society. One of the more tragic consequences of this epidemic is the devastating impact it has had and continues to have on infants and children.

Newborns are suffering through withdrawal from opioids because they’ve been exposed to these drugs in the womb. Fatalities and near-fatalities of infants and young children have been linked to parental substance abuse. Cases of child abuse and neglect linked to parental substance abuse are increasing, as are the number of children being removed from their homes and placed in protective custody because of the parents’ drug addiction.

Consider just a few alarming statistics:

Between 2010 and 2104, more than 7,500 infants in Pennsylvania who were born onto Medicaid were diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) after their mothers had used heroin or prescribed opioids during pregnancy. Sixty-one of those infants died before reaching their first birthday.

Of the 1,400 infants in Pennsylvania who were removed from their homes and placed in protective custody in 2014, 817 of them (56 percent) had parental substance abuse as a contributing factor in their placement.

These are the truly innocent victims of the opioid abuse crisis. In an effort to protect these infants and children, I soon will be introducing legislation authorizing the establishment of a Task Force that will focus on the impact this opioid abuse epidemic is having on children.

This Task Force’s objective will be to improve the safety, well-being and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children adversely affected by their parents’ substance abuse disorders.

The Task Force will be directed to identify strategies and make short- and long-term recommendations to prioritize the prevention of substance-exposed infants; to improve outcomes for pregnant and parenting women striving to recover from addiction; and to promote the health, safety and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children at-risk of child abuse and neglect, or placement in foster care due to parental alcohol and drug abuse.

The Task Force, appointed by the leaders of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, shall include representation from various Commonwealth agencies, including the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, as well as representation from the PA Courts.

The composition of the Task Force also will include non-governmental stakeholders and experts in the field, including behavioral health treatment providers, obstetric and pediatric physicians, early intervention providers, and providers of home-visiting programs.

Please join me in supporting the creation of this Task Force, which will focus on a particularly troubling aspect of the opioid epidemic that is jeopardizing the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s children.

Introduced as HB235