Efforts to Help Babies, Mothers with Opioid Dependence Focus of House Hearing, Watson Says
HARRISBURG – In continuing its efforts to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic’s impact on children and infants, the House Children and Youth Committee today heard from a range of medical experts and state officials on current programs and services to treat mothers addicted to opioids and babies born dependent on the drug, said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th), committee chairman.

“One of the tragic consequences of the opioid abuse epidemic has been the children affected,” said Watson. “It is silent in some ways because these children don’t have a voice. They are either born dependent on opioids or live in situations where their parents may be unable to care for them due to drug abuse. But our job on this committee and as lawmakers is to ensure that they can find safety and permanency.”

Those testifying at today’s hearing included Dr. Michael England, Pregnancy Recovery Center at Magee-Women’s Hospital; Dr. Debra Bogen, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; Pennsylvania Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas and Deputy Secretary Cathy Utz; Dr. Karla Nickolas Swatski, PA Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics; Rosemarie Halt, director of Health Policy and Practice, Maternity Care Coalition, Philadelphia; Steve Kearney, medical director, State and Local Government Section, SAS; and Cathleen Palm, founder, Center for Children’s Justice. Also participating will be a panel from Crozer-Keystone Health System -- Dr. Thomas Bader, chief medical officer; Dr. Christopher Stenberg, chairman, Department of Pediatrics; and Dr. Kevin Caputo, chairman, Department of Psychiatry/Physician Director, Specialty Care.

Testimony focused on a wide range of issues, namely education to help prevent women from becoming pregnant while abusing opioids, and treatment for pregnant and new mothers, along with medical care for the babies born dependent, and ways to ensure post-partum safety and identify and respond to ongoing needs.

All agreed that a multi-pronged and coordinated approach is essential to successful outcomes, and that all areas must work together to provide the best care plans for families. Those care plans should be flexible and adaptable to meet the changing and individual needs of families, and should include access to a variety of programs and services that not only support parents and their children in the near term, but also work toward long-lasting health.

Although more resources are likely needed at the state level to ensure the continuation and enhancement of services, additional coordination is imperative to ensure that all stakeholders are communicating effectively to act in the best interest of the child and the family.

To help develop the best, most effective policy guidance, Pennsylvania was one of 10 states to attend a federally convened policy academy. Those who attended learned more about ways to increase access to programs that focus on developing an action plan offering guidance to health care providers, substance abuse disorder treatment providers, community-based organizations and county children and youth agencies on their respective roles.

The testifiers also agreed with the need to create a task force of experts focused on this issue. As outlined in House Bill 235, the task force would be charged with developing recommendations to improve the safety, well-being and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children adversely affected by their parents’ substance abuse disorders. After passing the House unanimously on April 5, the measure is now with the Senate for review.

Representative Kathy Watson
144th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton
KathyWatson144.com / Facebook.com/RepWatson

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