Effective July 1, pregnant women who are drug dependent will be jailed, according to a new legislation in Tennessee, USA Today reported.
Although Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam decision was unpopular, the bill was signed into law April 29 with the intention of stopping mothers from harming their unborn child.
Tennessee made history by becoming the first state in the U.S. to jail pregnant women using illegal drugs and failing to seek treatment.
"The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorney a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs," Haslam was quoted as saying in a statement.
The piece of legislation according to Haslam, was signed after a thorough deliberation and consultation with substance abuse experts, mental health and health enforcement officials.
However, reproductive organizations and other civil groups protested the bill saying it would discourage pregnant women from seeking treatment for their addiction. Haslam said the new law would be monitored and the sunset provision of delaying punishment until 2016 will give the government the chance to look into the impacts of the law.
Tennessee's decision was made after the alarming number of babies are born affected by their mother's drug use, commonly suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
NAS is a condition experienced by infants whose mothers are addicted to illegal or prescription drugs. Pregnant women taking opiates or narcotic such as heroine, methadone, codeine, marijuana, amphetamines among others are likely pass on the drug dependency to their child. NAS is a withdrawal syndrome occurring in infants and the symptoms, which can appear as early as a day after he is born, are diarrhea, irritability, slow weight gain, vomiting, fever, and trembling.
Tennessee officials, in criminalizing drug dependent drug women, argued that the new law will, on the contrary, encourage mothers to get into treatment to ensure safety of the newborn and the mother.
A research conducted by the Journal of American Medical Association showed that the number of newborn baby with NAS is estimated at 13,539 in 2009. The number grew since 2000, meaning pregnant with drug problems have increased tremendously. 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, areillegal 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 and instead are advised to seek treatment from dependency. Withdrawal from drugs without the proper medical route could lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, and fetal stress.
There are several prescribed anti-addiction drugs for pregnant women, most are not recommended due to dangers it could bring to the child.
According to a 2002 case study by National Center for Biotechnology Information, there is evidence to show that pregnant women dependent on opiates such as heroin can be managed through naltrexone implants. This case studies provide preliminary evidence that the pregnant heroin user can be managed by naltrexone implant without dangerous risk to the mother and her unborn child.
The case study further added that Naltrexone given orally to pregnant women proved to be not as effective as the implant. It said "following treatment with Naltrexone implant, remained heroin-free throughout their pregnancies." The study also indicated that the implant does not cause long-term adverse effect on the newborn and the mother.
Naltrexone is a form of medication that stops the effects of opioids such as heroin and morphine. Naltrexone was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of opioid addiction in 1984 and in 1995 it was approved for treatment of alcohol addiction. The implant removes the risk of the patient not taking the required dose daily. It helps stop patients from wanting to take opiatesThe implant is placed under the patient's skin and because it is time-released, patients cannot skip the medication. The likelihood of a relapse after takingnaltrexone implants is small, according to studies.
The program developed by BioCorx Inc. treats patients with a slow release dose that can last up to several months in many patients . The time-released implant gives the patient a higher success rate in treating drug dependence. BioCorx Inc. said that their naltrexone implant is "one of the only single-administration, long acting implants used in the United States." The company also launched a Life Coaching Program along with the technology.