Owlett’s Bill to Address Opioid Epidemic Impact on Infants, Children Earns Unanimous Committee Approval
HARRISBURG – The House Children and Youth Committee today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) that aims to help infants born to parents with substance abuse disorders.

According to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were 2,140 infants born in 2018 with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Of all NAS cases, 90% were tested for laboratory evidence of prenatal drug exposure, and 84% of those with completed laboratory tests had a positive lab result. Of those, 85% of the infants tested positive for some form of opioids; 68% for drugs associated with Medication-Assisted Treatment; and 22% for opiates, oxycodone or fentanyl.

“These babies are the truly innocent victims of the opioid abuse crisis,” Owlett said. “We have the data that demonstrates how pervasive this problem is, but it’s not worth anything if we don’t use it to help these children.”

Watch discussion of the bill in committee here.

House Bill 253 would establish a task force to focus on the impact of the opioid abuse epidemic on children. Objectives of the task force would include improving 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 would also 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.

“Babies suffering with NAS have symptoms such as body shakes and tremors, overactive reflexes or twitching, tight muscle tone, fever, sweating or blotchy skin,” Owlett said. “On average, they are more likely to be born premature and with a low birth weight. In fact, 47% of the infants born with NAS in 2018 received care in a neonatal intensive care unit. These babies deserve better.”

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

Representative Clint Owlett
68th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Patricia Hippler