March 16, 2018

Whitehouse Calls for Action on Bipartisan Bill to Help Women, Babies Struggling with Opioid Addiction

Bill would authorize $160 million for programs that support expectant and new mothers and babies

Providence, RI – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today called on Congress to take action on his new bipartisan legislation, which would authorize $160 million for programs that support expectant and new mothers and babies who are struggling with opioid addiction.  Whitehouse made the statement at Women & Infants Hospital, flanked by health care professionals and state leaders.

“Some of the most heartbreaking images I have seen from this public health crisis are of babies who are born suffering from opioid withdrawal.  These infants start life from a very difficult place through no fault of their own, and my bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act 2.0 would help them grow up safe and healthy,” said Whitehouse.  “This legislation also would expand treatment programs for pregnant women and new mothers at a time in their lives when they are more likely to be open to getting help.”

Whitehouse and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) co-authored the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), the sweeping legislation guiding the federal response to the opioid epidemic, which passed both houses of Congress by large margins and was signed into law in 2016.  In recent weeks, Whitehouse and Portman introduced CARA 2.0 to implement further policy changes and authorize another $1 billion to address the public health crisis. 

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Senator Whitehouse for his work on the first Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) which allowed us to expand access to evidence-based practice for the treatment of Opioid Use Disorders,” stated Rebecca Boss, Director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals. “Our focus has been on developing both treatment and recovery systems which can respond to complex cases such as pregnant women with opioid use disorders.  CARA 2.0 will augment that work and allow us to fund innovative programs to supply additional recovery supports to women and their families through the early days of a woman becoming a new mom, a key time in which a woman needs extra supports.”

According to the state, the rate of infants in Rhode Island born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, also known as neonatal withdrawal, doubled between 2005 and 2016.  In 2016, 336 Rhode Islanders died of accidental drug overdoses, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. 

“I’d like to express our sincere appreciation to Senators Whitehouse and Portman for their commitment to this very vulnerable population of women and their families,” said Maureen G. Phipps, MD, MPH, chair and Chace-Joukowsky Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and assistant dean for Teaching and Research in Women’s Health at the Warren Alpert Medical School, professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Women & Infants Hospital and Care New England Health System. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to make a positive impact on potentially devastating condition. As leaders in the field of pregnancy and postpartum care, it is crucial that clinicians and researchers like those at Women & Infants Hospital have access to resources that will enable us to provide the best, most appropriate care to these moms and babies.”

Whitehouse’s CARA 2.0 legislation would authorize another $100 million for the treatment of pregnant and postpartum women, including support for facilities that allow children to reside with their mothers.  CARA 2.0 would also authorize $60 million to bolster states’ efforts to keep newborns who have been exposed to opioids safe and healthy. 

“Nationwide, every 25 minutes a baby is born with opiate dependence, with 95 out of every 10,000 new babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome,” said Adam Czynski, DO, director of the newborn nursery at Women & Infants Hospital. “Treatment and appropriate care for these babies works. Our new model of care on our Family Care Unit is already producing important results that include a decreased length of stay, decreased length of treatment, and decreased number of medication doses needed for these babies.  With the support from CARA, we will hopefully be able to grow this important service.”

CARA 2.0 would also increase civil and criminal penalties for opioid manufacturers that negligently allow addictive pills to get into the wrong hands, improve prescription drug monitoring and prescribing practices, and provide more support for people in recovery.


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