The inquiry, launched by Representative John Kline of Minnesota,
comes in response to a Reuters investigation last month that
identified 110 examples of children who were exposed to opioids
while in the womb and later died preventable deaths after leaving
No more than nine states comply with a 2003 law that calls on
hospitals to alert social workers whenever a baby is born dependent
on drugs, the news agency found.
Since the law was enacted, the number of newborns diagnosed with
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome has skyrocketed – from 4,991 cases in
2003 to 27,315 in 2013, federal data show. A Reuters analysis found
that thousands of drug-dependant newborns are sent home each year
without a referral to social service agencies, contrary to the
intent of the federal law.
Those referrals are intended to help social workers develop a "plan
of safe care" for the newborns and mothers. Although most states
fail to comply with the provisions, Reuters found none has lost
In a letter Friday, Kline told Health and Human Services Secretary
Sylvia Burwell that he was "deeply concerned" that the agency may
not be enforcing the law.
“A Reuters investigation released in December cast serious doubts
over whether these basic requirements in federal law are being
followed," wrote Kline, a Republican who chairs the House Education
and the Workforce Committee. The letter was co-signed by Todd Rokita,
an Indiana Republican, who chairs a subcommittee on early childhood
“The Reuters investigation reveals the shocking and deadly
consequences when these vital federal and state child welfare
policies are not properly implemented and enforced,” the lawmakers
"Even more troubling, according to the Reuters report, there are
some states that have failed to put these policies in place
altogether, yet not a single state is being denied … funds.”
Kline and Rokita asked Health and Human Services officials to
explain the review process for determining whether each state has
created a safe-care plan for babies born drug-dependent, and to make
clear the consequences for states that do not comply.
[to top of second column]
Agency officials did not immediately respond to the lawmakers’
The primary backer of a key provision in the 2003 law, former
Representative James Greenwood, said he was “delighted” that Kline
and Rokita took “this step to light a fire under” the Department of
Health and Human Services.
“Precious little lives are at stake,” Greenwood said.
Last month, top U.S. senators also called for action. Sen. Charles
Schumer, a Democrat from New York, asked for an “emergency surge” of
funds to help protect the newborns, and Sen. Robert Casey, a
Democrat from Pennsylvania, sought oversight hearings. The senior
Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said the
series “brings to the forefront a problem” that he has urged the
Obama Administration to address faster.
The Reuters investigation, “Helpless & Hooked,” can be found here.
(http://reut.rs/1NSc7uC) Kline and Rokita’s letter to the Health and
Human Services secretary can be found here.
(Edited by Michael Williams)
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