Perhaps nothing personifies the current state of Pennsylvania’s drug epidemic more than this: Over the course of the past two decades the state has established a network of 17 residential treatment facilities for pregnant women dealing with drug addiction. According to Deb Beck, president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers of Pennsylvania, those facilities are now overwhelmed.

Last year, 3,897 babies born in Pennsylvania had been exposed to illegal drugs during pregnancy, according to the Reading-based Center for Children’s Justice. That’s more than 10 newborns per day, and a 44 percent increase over the 2,706 babies born exposed to drugs just three years ago.

“The problem is just so big now,” Beck said. “They’re swamped.”

The state’s Department of Human Services is forming work groups to make recommendations for officials and caseworkers to follow, offering protocols in response to these addicted babies. Delays in meaningful solutions have been frustrating for many involved in the system, whose function it is to provide immediate care and outreach.

Among the work groups tasked with finding solutions are employees of the state departments of Human Services, Health and Drug and Alcohol Programs, representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, other medical groups, county agencies and the court system.

The groups, Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, said, can set “the stage for smart policy, going forward, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for a sense of urgency and guidance now.”

State Rep. Katherine Watson, R-Bucks County, the author of legislation to require medical professionals to notify Children and Youth agencies if a baby is born with drugs in his or her system, regardless of whether the drugs were used illicitly or under the guidance of a doctor, said the time for waiting and talking is over. It’s time for action. 

“I’ve told them, I’m not going to wait forever,” Watson said of these work groups.

While awareness, funding, programs and a solution-based approach to the opioid and heroin problem have pushed the fight to the headlines, much more needs to be done. It is imperative these groups, and others like them with similar agendas and priorities, come up with measurable and meaningful results in a timely fashion.

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