New Law In Maryland To Help Substance-Exposed Newborns - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

New Law In Maryland To Help Substance-Exposed Newborns

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MARYLAND – The infant mortality rate in Maryland has fallen 21 percent since 2008. One part of the effort to keep the rate down, is to focus on newborns who have been exposed to drugs and alcohol.    

"The odds are against a baby the more drugs and alcohol," says Pamela Hay, clinical supervisor at the Center For Clean Start. "Opiate dependence has just gone crazy , which is a longer detox for a baby when they're born."

To take action, Maryland legislators created a new law to protect substance-exposed newborns, kicking off on October 1st. Before the new law went into effect, health care practitioners who delivered substance-exposed newborns were required to do a toxicology report, but they were not required to do anything past that. Now, if the report tests positive practitioners must immediately notify a local department of social services by law.

"This law now takes it a step further," says Lisa Hartman, assistant director of services with the Wicomico County Department of Social Services. "Now social services can become involved as early as possible in helping to make plans for the safety and well-being of these children."

According to the law, the report of the birth of the substance-exposed newborn will not be considered a referral for investigation of suspected child abuse or neglect, and does not create a presumption that a child has been or will be abused or neglected. Officials say it will not require a referral for prosecution for any illegal action, unless social services have a clear indication that the mother was trying to intentionally harm the baby. Instead, the report will trigger an assessment of the safety of and risk to the newborn and, as needed, the development of a plan of safe care and services for the newborn and family.

"We're not punishing somebody for having a chemical dependency which has gotten out of control and beyond their control, were trying to offer them treatment," says Hay. "We're not talking about someone who drinks a little bit or smokes a little bit, we're talking about most people that are having a real problem giving something up, because their bodies become dependent on it."

Hartman says in Wicomico County, this has already been a common practice, and there is a great collaboration between the social services department and medical services.

"PRMC has often chosen to make those referrals on their own, but now they are required to by law. We're hoping to see this ongoing collaboration with the new law."

Hartman says she is hoping the new law will help that continue to get involved as early as possible.

"This way, we can get involved early, make good assessments, implement good service plans and see healthy mothers and healthy children free of substances abuse. They have the potential for wonderful outcomes."

For more information on the law, visit the Maryland Department of Human Resources website. For more information on treatment options, visit the Worcester County Health Department website.

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