The opioid crisis in America has lead officials and citizens across the country to take action, from President Donald Trump’s ‘White House Opiate Task Force’ to Pennsbury School District’s opioid and mental health task force.
State Representative Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th) sees the children and youth of the country under seen when it comes to legislative efforts. Watson’s House Bill 1707 would diminish “loopholes” currently in laws meant to protect babies who are born dependant on controlled substances.
Watson explained when the General Assembly updated the law last the mandate excluded medical professionals involved in the delivery or care of an opioid-dependent baby to report to child welfare agencies.
“The change was made to reflect situations in which mothers, during their pregnancy were using legally prescribed narcotics, such as oxycodone or methadone, under the supervision of a medical professional,” Watson’s statement included.
Statistical data on substance dependent children due to Pennsylvania’s law, which does not allow agencies to collect information on privately insured mothers, only covers mother’s covered by Medicaid. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services declared Medicaid enrolled mothers had 2,100 newborns born with symptoms of withdrawal from narcotics. According to reports, 972 of those dependent infants were reported to child protective services.
“Our state’s laws should not allow the sending of any substance-exposed newborns – or any newborn, for that matter – home with mothers who by virtue of their substance abuse disorder are unable to properly care for the infant or who may put the infant in serious danger.”
Under HB 1707, health care providers and professionals would be free to report opioid-dependent infant cases without confusion from the law currently in place. The Bill is currently waiting for a referral to a House standing committee for review.
The current law states children under one-year-old must be reported to child welfare authorities if the mother affects the child’s birth. The infant must experience withdrawal symptoms from prenatal drug use or have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Watson, also chairman of the House Children and Youth Committee, recently authored House Bill 235 with similar measures. This legislation has moved onto the Senate and would create a special task force dedicated to the safety, well-being, and permanency of substance-exposed infants and children’s due to their parents’ drug or alcohol abuse.
“Our ultimate goal is the protection of infants and children, and that’s why this legislation – along with a task force dedicated to the crisis – is so desperately needed. Our children are depending on us.”
State Rep. Watson called into WBCB’s show Speak Your Piece Wednesday afternoon to discuss HB 1707 and HB 235. Pat Wandling, host of the 12 to 1 p.m. daily show, knew Watson has been an advocate for the children and youth of Pennsylvania for a long time.
“Can you imagine taking care of a child when you are not at your best, emotionally or physically, because you are in some kind of treatment,” Watson said to Wandling.
Wandling discussed previous Bills Watson helped make into law and legislation in the works concerning grandparents taking care of their grandchildren due to an addiction.
Listen to their conversation: