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Eyes on Tennessee for action regarding pregnant substance users

April 17, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Treatment advocates are closely monitoring the fate of an adopted Tennessee state Senate bill that seeks to reduce the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) by subjecting pregnant substance users to arrest and incarceration.

Senate Bill 1391 has been approved by both chambers of the state legislature and now sits on Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's desk. A number of groups in the state that are organized as the Tennessee Coalition Against Pregnancy Criminalization conducted a media call this week to argue for the governor's veto of the measure.

At the heart of this issue has been medical professionals' consistent opposition to legislation of this type because of its deterrent effect on pregnant women's pursuit of needed treatment services, a problem that health experts say poses more of a long-term threat than NAS.

Cherisse Scott, founder of CEO of SisterReach, said of the Tennessee legislation, “It was promoted by prosecutors against the recommendations of medical professionals, permits arrest and incarceration of women who cannot guarantee that their newborn is in perfect health, and creates a separate and unequal law for women allowing their arrest if they are pregnant and struggling with addiction.”

Opponents of the legislation say it does nothing to improve treatment opportunities in a state in which only around 10% of addiction treatment programs presently serve pregnant women. They also question the logic of adopting this measure only a year after the state's passage of a law that guaranteed that pregnant women seeking treatment wouldn't run the risk of losing custody of their children.

The pending legislation in Tennessee isn't the only current high-profile policy matter involving pregnant women needing substance use treatment. A case in which a New Jersey woman was deemed to have engaged in child abuse by pursuing a course of methadone treatment for opioid dependence has reached that state's Supreme Court.

What are your thoughts on what appears to be a renewed targeting of pregnant women with substance use problems? Should the addiction treatment field be speaking louder on this subject?


Gary Enos


Gary Enos


Gary A. Enos has been the editor of Addiction Professional since its inception. He also...

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