Florida looks to protect infants from prescription abuse
By Kyle LoJacono
The Florida Legislature is creating a task force unlike any other to combat prescription drug abuse in the state.
The statewide group will examine the effects on newborn babies of mothers who abused prescription pain pills while carrying a child. This causes the infant to become addicted to the drugs.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said the goal of the force is to not only understand the scope of the problem, but also the cost of caring for such infants dealing with neonatal withdrawal, the long-term effects and identifying ways to prevent abuse by expectant mothers.
“I have seen firsthand the most vulnerable victims of prescription drug abuse, and we must do everything we can to protect these newborns,” Bondi said. “A thorough examination of this emerging problem now will help us develop sound prevention strategies for the future.”
No estimates exist to measure the number of babies born in Florida with an addiction to prescription drugs, but those who work in neonatal units have noticed an increase.
Dr. Kenneth Solomon, neonatologist and director of the neonatal intensive care unit of St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa, said the facility has seen an increase in the number of newborns suffering from withdrawal.
Solomon said neonatal withdrawal syndrome “is a collection of problems that will occur in a newborn that has been exposed to addictive drugs while in the womb. Symptoms of withdrawal include: fever, seizures, blotchy skin, incessant shrill cries, respiratory problems and extreme sensitivity to sounds and light.”
The Tampa Bay area has become one of the epicenters for the prescription drug abuse problem in the state. The Florida Medical Examiners Commission’s statistics show that of the 2,710 deaths attributed to prescription drug abuse last year, 1,150 were from people in Pasco, Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.
“If this epidemic is not slowed, and then reversed, the risk to the well-being of women and their children and medical costs associated with expectant mothers and newborns will continue to rise,” Bondi said.
Solomon will help the task force by contributing data and experience gained while working with infants going through withdrawal.
“At St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, we are working to provide the necessary newborn infant treatment while educating parents about the special needs of these babies,” Solomon said. “We’re eager to collaborate on local and statewide initiatives that target maternal early identification and provide prenatal treatment that can help prevent needless suffering.”
Members of the task force
–Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
–Florida Surgeon General Dr. Frank Farmer
–Elizabeth Dudek, Secretary, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary
–Gerald Bailey, Commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement
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