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Last week, the House and Senate passed a compromise to send the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 to the White House for signing. This coincides with recent headlines that have renewed attention to the skyrocketing number of babies born addicted to opioids.

Meanwhile, a staggering 90% of pregnancies among opioid-maintained women are unintended. So where are the safeguards to help these moms prevent unplanned pregnancies in the first place?

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It should be noted that prosecution and incarceration have no proven benefits to maternal or infant health. We need a public health response. However, efforts have been centered on treatment and recovery. And of that, only 10 percent of Americans with a drug use disorder get specialty treatment.

A Failure By Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services is already working with selected states through the Substance-Exposed Infant Initiative. However, there is no mention of family planning or contraception in its report. While treatment is important, all of these efforts are focused on addressing the problem after the fact. We need to a proactive solution.

LARC4CO is serving as a model for success for long-acting reversible contraceptive public programs in Colorado. As a member of the coalition, Having Kids is working to replicate that success in more states. But we must ask, why is this model not the federal standard?

Only about 6% of women with an opioid use disorder report using Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARC), such as an IUD or implant. Because of this massive hole in family planning, children undergo physical trauma at birth and the lifelong emotional and health consequences that result. And the crisis is not limited to affecting children in infancy.

Opioid Crisis Effects On Children
  • Babies born addicted to opioids endure withdrawal symptoms, which can last for months.
  • The instability that comes with a parent battling addiction also has harmful effects on children.
  • According to one study, “Children of opioid- and (alcohol-dependent parents) have significantly higher rates of psychopathology, as well as more difficulties in academic, social, and family functioning compared to the children of parents without a substance abuse disorder.”
  • Children’s born to mothers who use opioid during pregnancy may face learning disabilities.
  • Abuse and neglect are causing an increase in the number of children entering the foster care system.

According to the Gooden Center:

“Mainly because of the opioid crisis… [there were] 30,000 more children in foster care in 2015 than there were in 2012 which represents an 8 percent increase. In 14 states, the number of foster kids rose by 25 percent between 2011 and 2015. The problem became so severe in states like Texas, Florida and Oregon that kids had to sleep in state buildings because there were no more foster homes available.”

Why are we waiting for babies to become drug dependent before action is taken? Is this legislation’s blindness to the source of problem intentional because of potential difficulty in getting conservatives to support a package which includes family planning measures? I truly hope not. The well-being of newborns should supersede political agendas.

Helping Women With Opioid Dependency Through Family Planning

We can help women and children by removing the hurdles to accessing long-acting and effective birth control. By doing so, we can improve lives and better help those struggling with addiction to overcome their dependency without the added burden of parenting before they are ready. The obvious solution to preventing infants from becoming additional victims in this crisis is through a conscious public effort for family planning.

And what about cost concerns? While an IUD can cost about $1090, the cost of caring for an infant with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) can be upwards of $60,000. Therefore, it makes fiscal sense for the public to support family planning.

The failure by HHS and Congress to address this problem is forcing more infants to go through the agony of withdrawal every day. More children are being irreversibly affected. Swift, significant action is needed at the federal level to help communities afford women the ability to better prevent unplanned pregnancies.

This crisis demands that we put children first with family planning that accounts for their needs. Anything less than immediate attention is an acceptance of more suffering of infants and additional trauma on families.

Let’s invest in our communities by helping parents wait until they are ready and able to provide kids a fair start at life.

The bill is on its way to the White House for signing. Please ask President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar to use the bill signing as an opportunity to prioritize family planning to stop newborns from suffering. 

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