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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tuesday, on World Prematurity Day, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) applauded House passage of a bill he cosponsored to help prevent and treat prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). The bill passed unanimously in the Senate in October and will now head to the President’s desk for his signature.


“Too many children are exposed to dangerous opioids before they are even born. Protecting babies from this scary reality should be a top priority,” said Brown. “With admissions for newborns affected by addiction on the rise, it is clear more must be done to give babies a healthy start. Once this bill becomes law, we will have the tools in place to help create new treatment and prevention efforts to curb neonatal abstinence syndrome. Ohio faces both a troubling infant mortality problem and an opioid abuse problem, and I am hopeful this law will provided needed solutions.”


A 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that between 2008-2014, there were no federally-funded projects focused on the prevention or understanding of prenatal opioid use or any costs associated with use of opioids. While opioid use during pregnancy is sometimes medically-appropriate, the rate of NAS and misuse of opioids has risen dramatically. According to the Ohio Department of Health, between 2004 and 2011 NAS increased six-fold from 14 cases per 10,000 live births in 2004 to 88 cases per 10,000 live births in 2011. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 2004 and 2013, neonatal intensive care unit admissions for the treatment of NAS rose from seven cases per 1,000 admissions to 27 cases per 1,000 admissions nationwide.


The Protecting Our Infants Act, cosponsored by Brown, will:


  • Direct the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to conduct a study and develop recommendations for the prevention and treatment of prenatal opioid abuse and NAS, soliciting input from stakeholders.
  • Task the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) with leading a review of planning and coordination within HHS to close the gaps in research and programming identified by GAO in their February report.
  • Encourage improved data collection and surveillance by the states and promote an increased public health response to reducing NAS.

“We are fortunate in Ohio, Senator Brown has been a champion for mothers and children throughout his service,” said Michele Walsh, MD, MSE, Chief, Division of Neonatology and Interim Chair, Department of Pediatrics, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. “Over the last few years we have made notable progress in decreasing the amount of narcotics that babies receive as they are weaned. The additional resources from the passage of this bill will improve prevention strategies and treatments for both mom and baby.”


Dr. Walsh is the neonatology clinical lead for the Ohio Perinatal Quality Collaborative (OPQC) that has rolled out NAS protocol to 96 percent of NICUs in Ohio. NAS has taken a heavy toll on Ohio’s health care system. Treating newborns with NAS was associated with more than $97 million in charges and an average 24-day stay in Ohio’s hospitals in 2013.


Brown also plans to introduce a resolution recognizing today as World Prematurity Day. This resolution calls upon Congress to improve maternal health through maternity and prenatal care, while also advancing the care and treatment of children born prematurely.

Brown is a champion for improving children’s health in Ohio. Last year, his landmark legislation to battle against the rise in infant mortality was signed into law by President Obama. The Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act will build on existing activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to improve upon the quality and consistency of data collected during death scene investigations and autopsies to better inform prevention and intervention efforts related to stillbirths, Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID), and Sudden Unexplained Deaths in Childhood (SUDC). This collaboration with the states to enhance current methods of data collection across existing surveillance systems will enable doctors and researchers to better track and prevent these tragic losses.


Brown recently introduced the Healthy Maternity and Obstetric Medicine Act (Healthy MOM Act). This legislation would create a special enrollment period for pregnant women who need to enroll in or switch insurance coverage outside of the traditional open-enrollment period. Sen. Brown recognizes that women don’t time their pregnancies around arbitrary insurance open-enrollment periods, and these individuals deserve access to the care and services that best fit their maternity and prenatal needs.


Brown also continues to fight to help treat and prevent prescription drug abuse. Following his urging, HHS announced in September that it would revise regulations to expand the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence. In August, Brown called on HHS to increase access to medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for patients struggling with opioid addiction. He is also a cosponsor of The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act, bipartisan legislation reintroduced in May that would remove the cap on the number of patients physicians with proven track records of success can treat using MAT.

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