Watson’s Task Force on Opioid Impact on Children Earns House Approval
HARRISBURG – As a way to help address the growing number of babies born addicted to opioids and to better protect children living in homes with addicted parents, the House unanimously endorsed a proposal today to establish a task force to study the impact of the crisis on infants and young children, said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th), sponsor of the proposal.
“The opioid and heroin abuse epidemic has hit our communities very hard, as it has surpassed car crashes as a leading cause of death, but it is especially troubling to find that its most impressionable and forgotten victims are babies born addicted to opioids or to the young children left to fend for themselves,” said Watson, chairman of the House Children and Youth Committee. “House Bill 235
calls for a task force to not only study this terrible scourge on our society, but learn from the experts on what we can do to help and develop a plan to make sure we help these children.”
According to a recent report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, the rate of newborn hospital stays for substance-abuse problems in Pennsylvania soared 250 percent from 2000 to 2015, when nearly 20 out of every 1,000 newborns faced withdrawal issues. The council estimated the hospitalizations added almost 28,000 days and $20.3 million in costs.
“As a result, the needs of our child welfare agencies have skyrocketed and neonatal intensive care units are filled with babies who are struggling with this addiction from the moment they’re born,” said Watson. “That’s why we need a task force so that we can compile a comprehensive set of recommendations by the very experts who have dealt with these newborns and families with addiction issues. We found considerable success with a similar task force on child protection several years ago, and hope to develop the same type of reasonable and responsible measures to protect these innocent children.”
As outlined by the legislation, the task force would focus its efforts to improving the safety, well-being and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children affected by their parents’ substance abuse disorders.
It would also identify strategies and make short-term and long-term recommendations to prioritize the prevention of substance-exposed infants; improve outcomes for pregnant and parenting women who are striving to recover from addiction; 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 substance abuse; and ensure compliance with federal law.
If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, the task force would include appropriate department secretaries, as well as appointments by the General Assembly to reflect experts in obstetric medicine, pediatric medicine, neonatal intensive care nursing, behavioral health treatment, early invention programs, county Children and Youth Agency services or child advocacy.
The legislation now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
Representative Kathy Watson
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton