SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - Newborn babies are the pride and joy of new parents everywhere, but health officials in Tennessee say many of those babies are born dependent on drugs.
In an effort to cut down on the problem, Governor Bill Haslam has signed a new law. Doctors are hoping this law will not only curb drug use, but provide treatment for mothers and their children.
Babies born dependent on drugs -- health leaders in Tennessee say it's a growing problem. "Our hospitals are seeing too many babies [dependent on] drugs at birth," said Gary Mayes with the Sullivan County Health Department.
Governor Bill Haslam has signed a bill aimed at reducing the number of babies impacted by this problem. The law will allow district attorneys to charge mothers who give birth to affected children with a misdemeanor, but they also have the option of seeking treatment to avoid charges. "We're hoping this law is one to hold mothers accountable, but on the other hand to give them an incentive to get into [treatment]. If they refuse or they don't successfully complete it, they'll be held accountable for that," says Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus.
Some doctors say they were against the law at first for fear new moms would avoid pre-natal care. But with the opportunity to seek treatment, some doctors are now hopeful this bill could cut down on the number of drug-dependent babies in Tennessee. "The misdemeanor means it can be expunged by a judge, it means that the DHS doesn't take your baby away. It has nothing to do with an application for a job because it doesn't interfere with your job prospects, and that's really important," says Dr. Doug Springer, President of the Tennessee Medical Association.
Now leaders hope this bill, which goes into effect July 1, will help both mothers and babies.
Tennessee is the first state in the country to have a law like this one. Governor Haslam says in two years the administration will take a look back and see what the impact has been, and adjust the law as needed.
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