HARRISBURG – With Pennsylvania being among the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, the House today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) that aims to help children of parents struggling with substance abuse disorders.
“The opioid epidemic has brought about so much heartbreak for so many families across the Commonwealth, but one of the most devastating impacts by far has been on our children,” Owlett said. “Newborns are suffering withdrawal from drugs they were exposed to in the womb. Fatalities and near-fatalities of infants and young children have been linked to parental substance abuse. Cases of child abuse and neglect linked to parental substance abuse are increasing, as are the number of children being removed from their homes and placed in protective custody because of their parents’ drug addiction.
“Our children deserve better. We must do more to support them and their families,” Owlett said.
Watch Rep. Owlett’s comments during House debate 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.
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.”
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Representative Clint Owlett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia Hippler