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SI Advance: At RUMC, Schumer Press Conference

Posted Date: 12/22/2015
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Schumer urges emergency funding for newborns addicted to drugs

By Ryan Lavis |

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on December 21, 2015 at 6:35 PM, updated December 22, 2015 at 6:38 AM


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Sen. Charles Schumer is pushing for what he calls an "emergency surge" of federal funds to hospitals on Staten Island and elsewhere to help treat and reduce the number of babies born addicted to drugs.

Mothers who continue to abuse prescription pills and other opiates during pregnancy often give birth to babies who experience excruciating withdrawal symptoms for their first few months out of the womb — a medical condition known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). 

The Advance first reported recently on the significant increase in the number of NAS cases per year on Staten Island.

So far in 2015, there have been about 16 babies born with drug dependencies at Richmond University Medical Center in West Brighton, according to Dr. Anthony Barone, director of the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

During the second week of November alone, the medical center had six newborns in intensive care suffering from NAS, he said.

In 2014, a combined total of 27 babies were born suffering from NAS at RUMC and Staten Island University Hospital in Ocean Breeze. 

To address the issue, Schumer (D-NY) on Monday went to RUMC to announce his plan to use funds from the just-passed federal appropriations bill to help stem the troubling rise in NAS cases.

The bill recently allocated $47 million towards the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and now Schumer is calling on the federal agency to dedicate a portion to help treat, prevent and promote public awareness of NAS.

"Not one more baby should have to suffer like this," Schumer said.

"Thousands of infants are born each year with drug dependencies, and now that we have this federal funding in the budget, we must act by creating an emergency allocation of funding to help localities — like Staten Island -- address and fight this tragically growing trend," he added.

Schumer was joined on Monday by Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) and Staten Island District Attorney-elect Michael McMahon, both of whom echoed his call to action.

Also speaking was Dr. Daniel J. Messina, President and CEO of RUMC, as well as Dr. Barone.

Barone says his staff has seen firsthand the toll a mother's drug abuse can take on her newborn.

NAS generally presents symptoms in the first 48 to 72 hours after birth, which can include increased muscle tone, inconsolable, high-pitch cries, irritability, fever, severe shaking, loose stools and vomiting.

"The nurses are on the front lines.... I give them a lot of credit because they're dealing with the babies nonstop, 24-hours a day," Barone said. "It's heartbreaking for them."

Barone noted that additional funding for hospitals could be used toward education and other preventative measures for mothers addicted to drugs, or could even add more staff to help with the demands that come with caring for a baby who is going through opioid withdrawals.

Schumer said he is still working out the details in regards to exactly how much money should be allocated to the hospitals.

"Specific emergency dedication of NAS funding will help make sure our hospitals have the additional resources they need to help curtail the trend," Schumer said.