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Just-Passed Fed Budget Bill Includes Increased Funds To Fight Heroin Epidemic; Schumer Wants Some Of It Directed As Emergency Dollars Towards Drug-Dependent Baby Crisis In Dutchess County & Across New York State 

Schumer, Joined by Pediatric Doctors & Nurses, Calls For an Federal ‘Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’ Funding to Be Used Specifically To Help Treat and Prevent Growing Cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; Increased Funds Will Allow Dutchess County To Beat Back Epidemic 

Schumer:  Alarming Increase In Number of Heroin and Rx Drug-Dependent Infants Born In Dutchess County & Across NYS, Demands Feds Deliver Babies New Hope

Standing at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, NY, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today laid out an action plan to use federal funds from the just-passed federal appropriations bill in an effort to reduce the number of Dutchess County babies born dependent upon prescription drugs. Schumer called on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—which is a part of the federal Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS)—to use its increase in federal dollars from the just-passed Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations bill to address the alarming trend of drug-dependent babies in Dutchess County and across the Hudson Valley, amongst other places. A baby born dependent on prescription drugs, like painkillers and opioids, has a condition known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), cases of NAS have tripled. With Schumer’s support, the appropriations bill recently allocated $47 million towards the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA). Now that this federal funding has been allocated, Schumer will lay out an action plan and call on SAMHSA to dedicate a portion of the funding to help treat, prevent and promote public awareness of NAS.

“It’s become a sad fact that the latest victims of the prescription drug crisis in this country are the most vulnerable in our society, innocent babies,” said Schumer. “Thousands of infants are born each year with drug dependencies, and now that we have this federal funding in the budget, we must act by creating an emergency allocation of funding to help localities address and fight this tragically growing trend.”

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is the withdrawal response that occurs when an infant is exposed, in the uterus, to addictive drugs being taken by the mother. NAS symptoms are characterized by irritability, tremors, hypertonicity, vomiting and diarrhea. Schumer said that NAS can have a devastating impact on babies and their development. Drug exposure in utero has been shown to reduce birth weight and head circumference in infants. There are also long-term cognitive and behavioral problems associated with infants who have NAS. Beyond the devastating personal toll, a study conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 2012 showed that the public cost of NAS is growing exponentially. In 2000, total hospital charges associated with NAS amounted to $190 million; by 2009, they had risen to $720 million, and about three quarters of these costs are financed through Medicaid. According to the GAO, NAS infants stayed in the hospital on average 16 days with an average hospital bill of $53,000.

According to a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, from 2000-2012, the United States saw a significant increase in babies born with NAS. Approximately 21,732 newborns with NAS were born during this time. And, according to a recent Reuters investigation, there were more than 27,000 drug-dependent babies born in 2013. The Reuters investigation found that every 19 minutes a baby is born with NAS in the United States. New York is no exception to this growing epidemic.

According to a 2014 report by the New York State Department of Health, from 2010 to 2012, the Mid-Hudson region – consisting of Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster and Sullivan Counties – experienced a rate of 55.2 newborns with a drug-related diagnosis, per 10,000 newborn discharges. Dutchess County in particular experienced a higher rate, with 71.9 newborns receiving a drug-related diagnosis, per 10,000 discharges. In New York, the rate of infants born with NAS increased by 58 percent from 2009-2014. According to a Newsday report based on data from the NY State Department of Health, Dutchess County alone saw a 1,000 percent increase in drug-related diagnoses among infants within the last five years, from 2009-2014. In 2014, there were 22 newborns born dependent on drugs and opioids.

Schumer today explained that the recently passed omnibus spending bill provides the SAMHSA grant program with approximately $47 million to fight various activities in the prescription drug and heroin epidemic. For instance, $12 million of this funding will go towards overdose prevention; $25 million (an increase of $13 million) in this funding will go towards Medication Assisted Treatment; and $10 million of this funding will go towards prescription abuse prevention and awareness.

As a result, Schumer is urging HHS to dedicate a portion of this recently allocated funding to help fight the growing NAS epidemic in places with high rates of infants with NAS, like Upstate New York and the Hudson Valley Region. Schumer said this vital funding should be used to help treat mothers and babies with NAS, help mothers and their babies recover and help prevent the trend from growing.

Schumer has long supported additional measures to help mothers and NAS infants. In 2014, Schumer successfully urged the FDA to finalize a 2008 rule that made much-needed revisions to prescription drug labeling for pregnant women using all prescription drugs. The FDA's 2008 Proposed Rule on Requirements for Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling is designed to facilitate informed counseling about the prescribing of medicines for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or of childbearing potential. In his 2012 letter to FDA Commissioner Hamburg, Schumer noted that it is crucial to do everything possible to combat NAS, and the long overdue finalization of this rule would play an important role by helping pregnant women and their health care providers to avoid medications that may increase the risk of dependence during pregnancy. Schumer also noted this work could help addicted pregnant women to seek medical care that will reduce the risk of NAS.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to SAMHSA is below:

Dear Acting Administrator Enomoto,

I write to urge the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to prioritize programs that combat the growing epidemic of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) across the country. As the entity responsible for ensuring that substance abuse treatments and prevention efforts are efficacious, it is critical for infants born with drug-dependence to have access to effective treatment options. We must do all we can to protect our most vulnerable population so that they may grow up to lead healthy lives.

As you know, NAS is the withdrawal response that occurs when an infant is exposed, in utero, to addictive drugs. NAS symptoms are characterized by irritability, tremors, hypertonicity, vomiting, and diarrhea. This type of drug exposure in utero has been shown to reduce birth weight and head circumference in infants. In addition, infants can experience long-term cognitive and behavioral problems that known to be associated with NAS.

Over the last decade, cases of NAS in the United States have tripled and New York is no exception to the growing trend of infants born with NAS.  For example, Long Island’s Nassau County ranked 9th in the state while Suffolk ranked 2nd with the number of infants born with addictive drugs in their system in 2014. According to a recent Newsday article, the number of babies born dependent on opioids in Suffolk County more than doubled between 2009 and 2014.

Federal investment in the treatment and prevention of NAS is critical to ensuring the health of our newest generation. Fortunately the recently passed omnibus bill allocated $47 million to programs geared to prevent, treat and increase awareness of prescription drug and opioid abuse. For example, medication assisted treatment received $25 million in funding (an increase of $13 million) and provides a whole-person approach to treatment and treatment can be geared toward both pregnant women and infants. Additionally, $12 million will fund activities related to the overdose prevention and $10 million will fund prescription drug abuse prevention and awareness.

It is crucial for SAMHSA to harness its expertise and prioritize programs that within each of these funding streams to ensure that every child born with NAS has a fighting chance. I look forward to working with you on this critical issue. Thank you for your consideration.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator