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Lawmakers focus on babies with addictions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lawmakers met with hospital officials Thursday in hopes of finding a solution to the state's crippling prescription drug epidemic, perhaps by gearing new legislation toward pregnant mothers who pass their addictions on to their babies.

"If we're really going to tackle substance abuse, we can't leave any stone unturned," said Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, one of the members of the Women's Legislative Caucus who met with officials at CAMC Women and Children's Hospital Thursday evening.

Byron Calhoun, the head of the hospital's obstetrics clinic, said that about 19 percent of babies born in eight hospitals around the state are addicted to drugs. Those eight hospitals include Cabell-Huntington Hospital, Wheeling Hospital and Thomas Memorial, he said.

Drug-addicted babies increase the average costs of delivery and treatment from $2,000 to more than $36,000, he said.

"I knew we had a problem in West Virginia," said West Virginia first lady Joanne Tomblin. "The reality is -- it's huge."

In recent years lawmakers have ramped up efforts to combat prescription drugs, which account for nine out of 10 drug-related deaths in the state. Last month, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., introduced legislation that would impose stricter training requirements for doctors prescribing the drugs, increased federal financing for drug-monitoring programs and a system for comprehensive reporting of opioid-related deaths.

During Thursday's informational session, Poore said state lawmakers should consider legislation that would require the Department of Health and Human Resources to create county-by-county therapy centers for women addicted to drugs.

Calhoun also said that the state should consider providing more line-item dollars into the health-care budget to fund hospital systems' obstetrics clinics, which would include registered nurses to follow up with high-risk mothers, and additional counselors to help patients through their addiction problems.

Poore and Tomblin said that the state should focus efforts on educating people in hopes of stopping the problem before it starts.

"How do we as legislators make it comfortable to get women back in society?" Poore said. "How do we make sure that there are programs like this one?"

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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