Nashville, TN, United States (4E) – Starting next month, Tennessee’s pregnant women using illegal drugs will be prosecuted as a law criminalizing such act takes effect.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed Senate Bill 1391 into law on April 29 making Tennessee the first state to jail pregnant women using illegal drugs and failing to seek treatment. Under the law intended to stopping mothers from harming their unborn child, a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug. Punishment of those convicted of violating the law is delayed to 2016 to give the government the chance to look into the impacts of the law.
Haslam said the law went through a thorough deliberation and consultation with substance abuse experts, mental health and health enforcement officials. However, reproductive organizations and other civil rights groups protested the bill on fears it would discourage pregnant women from seeking treatment for their addiction.
Tennessee’s Assembly enacted the law in response to the growing number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) because of their mother’s addiction to opiates or narcotic such as heroine, methadone, codeine, marijuana, amphetamines. NAS is a withdrawal syndrome occurring in infants. Its symptoms, which can appear as early as a day after the baby is born, are diarrhea, irritability, slow weight gain, vomiting, fever, and trembling.
Tennessee officials are hoping the new law will encourage mothers to get into treatment to ensure safety of their newborn and themselves.
The Journal of American Medical Association put the number of newborn baby with NAS at 13,539 in 2009. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, results from the 2012 Survey on Drug use and Health showed pregnant women aged 15 to 44 years old, or close to six percent, are illegal drug users. The rate was lower compared to the women in the same age group that are not pregnant.
Health officials have discouraged drug-dependent mothers from going cold turkey or withdrawal from drugs without the proper medical care because it could lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, and fetal stress. There are several prescribed anti-addiction drugs for pregnant women, but most are not recommended due to dangers they pose to a fetus.
Naltrexone, for example, stops addicts from craving for opioids such as heroin and morphine. Naltrexone was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of opioid addiction in 1984 and was approved for treatment of alcohol addiction in 1995.
According to a 2002 case study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there is evidence that pregnant women dependent on opiates such as heroin can be managed through naltrexone implants without endangering both mother and unborn child. The same study found that naltrexone given orally to pregnant women is not as effective as when it is given in the right dosage via an implant. Following treatment with naltrexone implant, the women remained heroin-free throughout their pregnancies, the study said.
An addiction rehabilitation program called Start Fresh Program uses naltrexone implant on patients while providing them life coaching to treat their addiction. BioCorx Inc. (BICX) developed the program and licenses its use by rehab clinics across the U.S.
The naltrexone implant removes the risk of a patient not taking the required dose daily. The implant is placed under the patient’s skin and because the drug is automatically released slowly on preset time, patients cannot skip the medication. The effect of the drug last up to several months in most patients giving the method a higher success rate in treating drug dependence. Also, the likelihood of a relapse after taking naltrexone implants is small, according to studies.
BioCorx Inc.. said that their naltrexone implant is one of the only single-administration, long acting implants used in the country.