Sen. Chuck Schumer, citing an increasing number of Long Island babies born with heroin and prescription painkillers in their system, called on the federal government Monday to ramp up spending for programs aimed at curbing the growth of such cases.
At a news conference held at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Congress recently approved $47 million in funding for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — a $35 million increase from last year meant to bolster opioid treatment and prevention programs throughout the country.
Schumer said he wrote to SAMHSA acting Director Kana Enomoto requesting a portion of the increase be directed to “help treat, prevent and promote public awareness” of neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when an infant is exposed to drugs in the womb.
“It’s become a sad fact that the latest victims of the prescription drug crisis in this country are the most vulnerable in our society, innocent babies,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s call comes after a Newsday report earlier this month found Suffolk and Nassau have both seen increases in the number of drug-dependent babies born between 2009 and 2014.
Suffolk’s birthrate for drug-dependent babies more than doubled over the past six years, outpacing growth in New York City and other similar-sized counties. In 2009, 5.42 per 1,000 births in Suffolk had some level of opioid exposure, which increased to 11.2 in 2014, according to state health data. In Nassau, the birthrate increased from 2.33 in 2009 to 3.72 in 2014.
“We have more addicted babies on Long Island,” Schumer said while holding up a copy of Newsday’s report. “We want the headline to change to fewer.”
Schumer proposes making funds available to local hospitals and social service agencies through a grant process, saying Long Island programs would stand a good chance of winning funding because Nassau and Suffolk have been “an epicenter” of increasing heroin and prescription drug abuse.
Schumer was joined by Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Mineola-based nonprofit Family and Children’s Association, and Dr. Andrew Steele, medical director of Cohen Children’s Medical Center, who both said additional funds were needed for programs specializing in the treatment of mothers and children.
“This crisis has been bubbling just below the surface for years,” Reynolds said. “We always knew that a byproduct was going to be pregnant women and their kids . . . it’s an opportunity for us to rethink the way we provide treatment for women and kids. There are very few treatment slots across New York State, where you can go in as a parenting mom and say, ‘I’d like to get treatment.’ Typically, getting treatment means separating yourself from your newborn, which quite frankly isn’t good for anyone. So this gives us the chance to right some historic wrongs.”