Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander on Thursday said that “Tennessee is on the front lines as the opioid crisis has caused what the Tennessee Department of Health has described as a ‘sharp increase’ in the number of babies born in opioid withdrawal.”
The committee today held its fourth hearing this Congress on the opioid crisis to look at its effect on children and families. Senator Alexander said, “Before we turn to today’s focus, I wanted to say that later today, I, along with Ranking Member Murray, and Senators Young and Hassan, will introduce legislation to help address the opioid crisis.
The committee plans to hold a markup on this bill, as well as other opioids legislation, as soon as the end of March.
“The opioid crisis is particularly heartbreaking for families and children No one understands that more than Jessie, an East Tennessee woman who lost a baby during the nearly two decades she struggled with an addiction to opioids and other substances. Today, Jessie is in recovery and is a powerful resource for pregnant women in East Tennessee who are addicted to opioids, providing support and encouragement to women going through the same battles she fought during her recovery.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS and who go through withdrawal symptoms from opioids has tripled from 1999 to 2013 – and Tennessee has a rate of three times the national average. The opioid crisis affects more than just infants –many grandparents and relatives have taken on the role of caregiver for children whose parents are addicted to opioids. In Tennessee, between 2010 and 2014, there was a 51 percent increase in the number of parents who lost parental rights because of an opioid addiction.
“While that was a lot of numbers, they represent real families and children whose lives are being affected by the opioid crisis. It is important for the committee to hear how states are helping ensure newborns and children impacted by drug abuse are being cared for, and if they need changes to federal law or regulations to help improve that care. I believe the focus should be on helping keep families stronger, together – how can we help parents receive treatment and stay clean, while still protecting their children.”
Congress has passed legislation in recent years to help children and families, including the Protecting Our Infants Act, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act – which included updates to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to help children and their parents effected by the opioid crisis – and the 21st Century Cures Act, which included $1 billion in funding for state grants.
Alexander said, “What I want to know today is, are these laws helping states and communities address the problems faced by children and families in the opioid crisis? I want to ensure states are able to coordinate all the services a parent addicted to opioids, and the children who are impacted, may need – including mental health, and substance use disorder treatment, and family supports.”
On Oct. 5, 2017 the committee held the first hearing of the series which focused on the federal response to the opioid crisis, and on Nov. 30, the committee heard from witnesses representing states, communities, and providers on what they are doing and what, if any, new authorities they need from the federal government to fight the crisis. On Jan. 9, the committee heard from author Sam Quinones, who has extensively researched and written about the opioid crisis.
Senator Alexander’s full prepared remarks are available here.