Topeka A bill designed to help curtail the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco by women during pregnancy has been introduced by Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, and 13 other senators.
"It is vital to step up public awareness and make every effort to guarantee children a healthy start in life," Winter said Tuesday. "It's time to be pro-active and attack the growing problem of alcohol- and drug-abused infants up front. This bill should help to reduce significantly the tremendous cost of treating the problem later."
Under the bill, the secretary of Health and Environment would initiate a campaign to educate pregnant women about the ill effects on their unborn children of using tobacco, alcohol or any controlled substance during pregnancy.
The bill also would require every obstetrical or gynecological health-care provider in the state to counsel pregnant patients about the effects of non-medical drug use.
WINTER SAID the bill was drafted by Nancy Jorn of the Douglas County Health Department, who deals with such problems. The bill is similar to one that became law in Missouri last year.
Winter said the bill has received input from several health-care groups, such as the Kansas Medical Society, the Kansas Nurses Assn., and also the state departments of Social and Rehabilitation Services and Health and Environment.
Under the bill, women who are identified as being at high risk for perinatal substance abuse would have to be provided information on the availabilty of drug-treatment services and referral options.
The bill contains a provision that health-care providers who comply perform drug counseling would be immune from civil liability stemming from such actions.
The bill says that women referred for perinatal substance-abuse treatment would be given first priority for social and rehabilitation services treatment programs.
"IT REALLY focuses all the resources on these women first," Winter said. "It makes this confidential. It specifically does not allow for any of this information given voluntarily to be used as a sword against these women. That would have a chilling effect. People would be less likely to go to docs here, if they knew that was going to happen. . . . It creates a safe harbor for expectant mothers to get treatment and get their problems solved."
Newborns identified through medical documentation as being drug-exposed would be referred to the SRS Child Protective Services, Winter said. And an investigation could be conducted to ensure the child would not be abused or neglected, he said.
"If the kid is born and has a problem, we have a safety net there for that child," he said.
Winter said if the bill is approved, it would help reduce the public cost of dealing with drug-dependent infants.
"THE AVERAGE cost for the first three months of life for a crack baby is $200,000," Winter said. "Virtually 100 percent of those crack babies do not have private insurance. They are paid for by the taxpayers. And that's just in the first three months. Most of those kids have a permanent disability. They're going to require special needs throughout their lives."