Bondi, Negron seek to tackle latest Rx abuse victims – newbornsby Dara Kam | October 5th, 2011
That’s why Bondi is asking lawmakers to help her create a task force to find out how rampant the problem is and come up with solutions before prescription drug-addicted babies become a crisis as difficult to address as pill mills.
“We do not want this to become the next crack baby epidemic…and that’s where we’re headed,” Bondi told reporters at a press conference flanked by supporters of the legislation, including Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Committee. Bondi was also joined by Stephanie Haridopolos, a family practice physician and the wife of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.
Bondi said she and Stephanie Haridopolos recently visited the neo-natal intensive care unit at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa. Kenneth Solomon, the unit’s director, said Wednesday that about 25 percent of the babies in his unit are there because they are withdrawing from drugs. The majority of the babies are addicted to oxycodone, Percocet or methodone, Solomon said. Twenty percent of the babies born addicted to drugs in his unit wind up in foster care, he said.
Usually, babies and mothers spend up to 72 hours in the hospital. But babies addicted to drugs can spend up to two months in the NICU at three times the cost, Solomon said. The babies suffer from extreme sensitivity to light and sound, fevers, incessant crying and respiratory problems, are often born prematurely and sometimes must be readdicted to the drug before the withdrawal procedure can begin, he said.
“Instead of getting milk, those babies are getting methodone,” Bondi said. “And it’s got to stop.”
As the Senate’s chief of state spending on health care, Negron said lawmakers need to step in immediately to assess the problem.
“For me, this is a public health issue and not a law enforcement challenge,” Negron said. “We owe the children of Florida a fair start at the starting line of life.”
Bondi’s proposed task force would include state Surgeon General Frank Farmer, the secretaries of the Department of Children and Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration, the executive director of the Department of Law Enforcement, two lawmakers and an addiction and recovery association representative.
If approved by the legislature, the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns will examine the scope of the problem, the costs associated with the lengthy withdrawal process for babies in neo-natal intensive care units, possible long-term effects on the children and ways to educate women about staying off prescription drugs when they are pregnant. Bondi could have created the task force herself but wanted the legislature’s blessing to elevate its prominence, she said.
Bondi said she has discussed the burgeoning epidemic with President Obama’s drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, who shares her concerns, and has pledged to make Florida a model state for the nation in addressing the issue.
Since new laws pushed by Bondi this spring went into effect cracking down on pill mills and “doctor-shopping,” Farmer said his agency has suspended or revoked licenses of numerous rogue doctors. But that’s not enough, the surgeon general said.
“It is another looming problem” the state needs to “head off before it becomes an epidemic like prescription drug abuse, Farmer said.
Many pregnant women do not tell their doctors that they are using prescription drugs and are unaware of the potential threat to their babies, Bondi said, and encouraged them to be honest about their drug use.
“This isn’t about trying to take your child away. This is about getting you help,” she said.