Protecting our Nation’s Newborns from Opioid Abuse

“According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 15 million Americans abused prescription drugs in the past year. This number is growing, and it’s having devastating effects on our society. As an OBGYN who delivered nearly 5,000 babies, I’ve seen firsthand what opioid abuse can do to an addict and their families, and it is especially heartbreaking to see what it can do to newborns.

“While there are many devastating impacts of opioid misuse, too many newborns around the country are being diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. NAS is the clinical term used when a newborn has been exposed to opiate drugs while in the womb, and many of these babies start their lives going through extremely dangerous withdrawals at no fault of their own. In my home state of Tennessee, nearly 1,000 cases of NAS were reported statewide in 2015.

“This hits especially close to home for me because the county with the highest reported cases of NAS, Sullivan County, is in my Congressional district. Tennessee has the second highest rate of prescriptions per person in the country, second only to West Virginia. Late last year, the House passed and the president signed into law bipartisan legislation, the Protecting Our Infants Act, to support best practices designed to prevent and treat opioid abuse in expectant mothers and to help diagnose and treat infants suffering from withdrawal.

“Additionally, I serve as co-chair of the House GOP Doctors Caucus, a group of 18 medical providers who serve in Congress and focus on policies that will improve patient care. Recently, we held a joint panel with the Prosecutors’ Task Force to discuss some of the solutions recommended by medical providers, including improving treatment options for pregnant women, increasing access to life-saving medications following an overdose and delinking physician payments from patient pain satisfaction surveys, which some believe may drive overutilization of pain medications.

“While there’s no silver bullet, there are a lot of thoughtful solutions that – when taken together – will help us start winning the battle against opioid abuse.

“Congress must act now, and that’s why committees in Congress have approved commonsense, responsible, and bipartisan solutions to this serious and growing epidemic. The House Energy and Commerce and Judiciary Committees have approved more than a dozen bills to stop this serious and growing threat to public health, and this week House Republicans will keep their promise to the American people by considering several of these bills on the House floor. 

“I’ve treated thousands of patients, and I can tell you I’ve never seen a Republican or Democrat cancer in my life. I recognize that health care cannot and should not be a partisan issue, and I believe House Republicans stand ready to work with the Administration where we can find common ground on this issue. Recently, I led the Doctors Caucus in meeting with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to discuss this and many other public health issues. SG Murthy said that combating opioid abuse is a priority for him, and I look forward to reviewing the Surgeon General’s report on substance abuse which should be released this year.

“As a physician, a father and a grandfather, I will continue to be active in the fight against opioid abuse. It’s a fight we cannot afford to lose.”

– Representative Phil Roe (R-TN)