Hospitals in Tennessee will be required to report babies exposed to drugs prenatally, under a measure that takes effect in 2013. Until now, the state has relied on insurance discharge claims to track the incidence of these cases. The claims can have a lag time of nine to 18 months, according to The Tennessean.
“In the last two years, we’ve had in Tennessee more than 1,000 helpless babies, blameless babies born dependent on addictive drugs that their mothers used during pregnancy — some for chronic pain, some for treatment of addiction itself, some using these drugs illegally,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner told the newspaper.
This week, Tennessee officials discussed ways to combat the growing problem of prenatal drug exposure. One proposal would program the state’s prescription drug monitoring database to flash a pink screen when narcotics are prescribed to a woman of reproductive age. Physicians are required to report narcotic prescriptions in the database, the article notes.
In some cases, prenatal exposure to drugs may occur because the mother abuses heroin or other illicit substances, or because she is receiving addiction treatment with methadone or buprenorphine. But more and more infants are being affected by exposure in the womb to prescription painkillers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Drug exposure during pregnancy can cause many problems in newborns, including drug withdrawal upon birth. Babies can suffer irritability, tremors, seizures, vomiting and shrill crying, as well as long-term problems including birth defects, impaired growth and behavior problems.