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Legislators announce bills to help cut neonatal abstinence syndrome in newborns 

Monitor staff
Published: 12/19/2017 11:54:18 PM

The rise of neonatal abstinence syndrome in New Hampshire, a disorder in which newborns whose mothers struggle with substance misuse suffer withdrawal symptoms, comes in direct correlation with the state’s opioid and heroin crisis.

Now, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley is submitting legislation he says could help head off future cases.

At a press conference Tuesday, the Wolfeboro Republican announced a bill he said would remove barriers to treatment and counseling for new mothers. The bill, the text of which was not immediately available Tuesday, would remove an age limit in the state’s Medicaid program – presently the program will only cover counseling services for new mothers 21 and younger. The bill would also eliminate a requirement that the newborn be the mother’s first child, allowing counseling to be dramatically expanded for low-income residents that qualify for Medicaid.

“It’s very important for anybody who is having that baby to be able to get the services and counseling that they need,” Bradley said.

Bradley’s bill would also restore voluntary treatment services to people whom the state Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has deemed “unfounded with reasonable concern.” That category of people – those who fall short of who DCYF deems worthy of charges – was recently added by the Legislature in response to a crisis at the agency and concerns that some residents are falling through the cracks.

The bill has robust support, with nine co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. One of the co-sponsors, Dan Feltes, D-Concord, spoke at the press conference to tout efforts to increase early child care programs.

“Imagine having to choose between your kids and much needed treatment,” Feltes said. “That’s not good for our kids, nor is it good for the health of our workers, our businesses, or our economy. For far too many families, access to quality, affordable child care is often a missing piece of the treatment puzzle.”

And both Feltes and Bradley argued that reauthorization of New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion program, which has provided substance abuse treatment to over 23,000 residents, is key to fighting the crisis. That reauthorization effort will come before the Legislature next session in what is sure to be a tough fight.

To Bradley, it’s a problem that can’t be ignored.

“The cost is pretty significant, both in terms of broken families and costs to our budget,” he said.

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