US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Alexander: New Drug Warnings “Should Help Tennessee Combat the Epidemic of Babies Born Addicted to Painkillers”

Tennessee is on track this year to exceed 800 cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome—a 28 percent increase from 2011

Friday, September 13, 2013Liz Wolgemuth 202-228-4729

KNOXVILLE, Sept. 13—The senior Republican on the U.S. Senate health committee today said a new requirement that certain painkillers come with a warning to mothers and prescribers that chronic use during pregnancy can cause babies to suffer from life-threatening withdrawal “should help Tennessee combat the epidemic of babies addicted to painkillers.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said: “Already this year, 510 Tennessee babies have been born addicted to painkillers because their moms were using these prescription drugs during pregnancy. I hope that ensuring the drugs come with a warning to moms and prescribers about risks to the baby will help reduce the number of Tennessee newborns suffering the pain of withdrawal.”

At the current rate of Tennessee babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the state is on track to exceed 800 cases by the end of 2013—a 28 percent increase from 2011, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, Commissioner of Health in Tennessee, said: "Our data clearly show a preventable epidemic of drug dependent newborns that can be turned around both by preventing addiction and preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place. We are very grateful that the FDA has announced an essential new posture around these powerful medications, including a boxed warning regarding use by women of child bearing age that will foster critical awareness and conversations to constrain this burden on children, families and our state."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it will require a new boxed warning on extended-release and long-acting opioids, which includes long-acting versions of painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine, to caution that chronic use of these products during pregnancy can result in withdrawal that may be life-threatening. Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome can occur in a newborn exposed to opioid drugs while in the mother’s womb. Symptoms may include excessive or high-pitched crying, rapid breathing, seizures, and poor feeding.

Alexander with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) last year sent a letter to the Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) urging the agency to provide as much information as possible to combat rising rates of prescription drug abuse among pregnant women. Preventing neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which includes opioid withdrawal, is an economic priority because babies born to mothers addicted to opioids, such as painkillers, necessitate longer and more expensive hospital stays than healthy infants.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that found that the number of newborns being born in drug withdrawal has increased nearly threefold in the past 10 years, also found that 80 percent of the healthcare costs for affected newborns was paid by Medicaid last year.

According to TennCare, a baby with NAS cost 5.6 times more than a baby without NAS in 2010. TennCare infants with NAS are 18 times more likely to enter state custody than infants without NAS.

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