Protecting babies from drug abuse

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register|      

WHEELING, W.Va. — As many as one-third of pregnant women in the Ohio Valley may be using drugs – some of them illegal – that could harm their unborn children.

That estimate came from Dr. Judith Romano of Wheeling Hospital, during a roundtable discussion last week of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. As we reported, health care and social services professionals from throughout the Ohio Valley attended.

NAS occurs when pregnant women use certain drugs, including both prescription opiates such as Percocet and illegal ones such as heroin. Babies in the womb can become addicted. When they are born and the flow of drugs through their mothers stops, the newborns can develop severe withdrawal symptoms and other health problems.

It has been known for years that a disturbingly large number of area women abuse drugs during pregnancy. That is because of an umbilical cord testing program in West Virginia.

Protecting children, both before and after birth, was a focus of last week’s NAS roundtable. It revealed some shortcomings in how state laws address the problem.

For example, one obvious concern in such situations is that newborns may be in danger if they are allowed to stay with their mothers. In both West Virginia and Ohio, Child Protective Services workers can remove children from such homes under certain circumstances.

In Ohio, an allegation of drug abuse by the mother is needed for that to happen. But state law views evidence of drugs in a child’s system as an “allegation” only after birth. Positive drug tests while children are still in the womb are not accepted.

That makes no sense. The law ought to be changed. In fact, legislators in both states – with guidance from health care and Child Protective Services professionals – ought to take fresh looks at NAS and what can be done to protect children from it. The issue has been neglected for too long. Meanwhile, babies by the hundreds in West Virginia and Ohio continue to suffer needlessly.

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