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Bondi wants task force to study effects of prescription drugs on newborns

Attorney General Pam Bondi wants to head off what she views as a growing consequence of Florida's prescription drug crisis: babies born addicted to their mother's prescription drug of choice.

Bondi wants the Legislature to pass a bill that would create a statewide task force to investigate the issue, including how much it costs to care for babies with neonatal withdrawal syndrome, the long-term effects of neonatal withdrawal syndrome and strategies for preventing pregnant mothers from abusing prescription drugs.

At Tampa-based St. Joseph's Hospital, about 15 to 20 percent of the babies born in the neonatal intensive care unit during the last year suffered from neonatal withdrawl syndrome, she said.

"We do not want this to become the next crack baby epidemic," Bondi said at a Wednesday press conference to announce the initiative. "And that's where we're headed in our country."

She spoke amid a throng of legislators, state physicians and two mothers who overcame their addictions to prescription drugs but declined to speak with media. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, have sponsored SB 402 and HB 227, respectively.

The task force would consist of Bondi, Surgeon General Frank Farmer, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Elizabeth Dudek, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, representatives from the Florida Hospital Association and Florida Medical Association, a representative from a substance abuse recovery organization, and a legislator from each chamber. Their work would start upon the bill becoming law, and findings would be released to the Legislature on January 2013.

The affected babies are sensitive to light, sound and physical contact, and also suffer stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea, Bondi said.

"Instead of getting milk, these babies are getting methodone," she said. "And that's got to stop."

Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, a family practice physician and wife of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, toured several neonatal units this year and would like to see a more uniform approach in how nurses monitor each baby's condition across state hospitals.

Bondi said she told U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Florida's reaction to the problem will be a model for the rest of the country.

St. Joseph's has treated 110 babies in past year who are addicted to prescription drugs. Doctors have to "re-addict" the babies to less harmful drugs during the first days after delivery, such as methodone and suboxone, said Dr. Ken Solomon, who works in the hospital's neonatal unit.

"This type of action the state of Florida is taking is critical," Solomon said.