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Florida Launches New Initiative on Newborns Exposed to Prescription Drugs

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Florida is launching a new initiative to tackle the growing problem of newborns exposed to prescription drugs, the Associated Press reports. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi held a press conference Friday with the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Health to announce the new program.

In February a task force of doctors, public health experts and social workers in Florida released a report designed to combat the growing problem of babies born to mothers who are addicted to prescription drugs. The report found more than 1,560 babies born in Florida in 2011 were diagnosed with symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). These babies often spend three weeks in neonatal intensive care, with a cost as high as $53,400 per baby. In contrast, the typical hospital cost for a healthy newborn is $9,500.

NAS babies suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, abdominal pain, incessant crying, rapid breathing, and sometimes seizures, the report notes.

The task force made recommendations in the areas of prevention, intervention and best practices, and treatment. It recommended that hospitals be required to report babies born with symptoms of NAS, as they do with babies born with infectious diseases such as measles and tuberculosis. The group wants to help treatment facilities reach more women, and recommended considering new laws to offer pregnant women immunity for seeking substance abuse treatment.

In April, state officials launched a new website, BornDrugFreeFL.com and a 1-877-233-5656 helpline, to raise awareness about babies being born exposed to prescription drugs. The campaign is designed to educate expectant mothers about the importance of discussing prescription drug use with their doctors, and to offer the women assistance. The campaign is being advertised through billboards across the state.

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