A little over a year ago, at the annual Easter Egg Hunt that I hosted as Governor of New Hampshire, I was approached by a woman carrying a baby. As the woman introduced me to the little boy in her arms, she explained that he was not her son, but her grandson. The boy’s mother had died the previous month from a drug overdose. On this Mother’s Day, I am reminded of this grandmother, who — like so many others — finds herself parenting a second time around because of the heroin, fentanyl, and opioid epidemic.
This public health crisis has taken far too many people all across America, including in my home state of New Hampshire. It affects people from all walks of life, taking a devastating toll on our communities, our economy, and most importantly, on our families.
Some women who become pregnant while addicted to opioids end up in a shelter, jail, or homeless, worried that if they seek treatment their children will be taken away. Women should not be punished for the disease of addiction; we must aggressively work to help them get into treatment to save their lives and to help ensure that their children are born healthy.
An increasing number of babies are born with neonatal abstinence syndrome — a tragic consequence of this public health epidemic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as of 2012 a baby was born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 25 minutes. Neonatal abstinence syndrome creates severe risks for newborns, including, among others, poor growth and seizures as the baby goes through withdrawal. And even those pregnant women who are able to stop using opioids during the course of their pregnancy are, unfortunately, particularly susceptible to relapsing after giving birth.
As Governor, I worked to provide funding for organizations like Hope on Haven Hill in Rochester, New Hampshire, to help pregnant and parenting women struggling with substance misuse for up to a year after delivery. This residential recovery facility provides life-saving services to low-income pregnant or parenting women living with a substance use disorder. It allows children to remain in their mothers' care — which is critical to the well-being of both the children and mothers — while their mother continues her recovery.
Unfortunately, this epidemic is spreading faster than groups such as Hope on Haven Hill can keep up. There is an urgent need to provide more resources so that those on the front lines have the tools they need to expand prevention, treatment, and recovery services. This has been a top focus of mine in the U.S. Senate. We know that there are a number of steps we can take at the federal level to help stem the tide of this epidemic, and many of these steps are bipartisan.
Most immediately, we need to secure additional resources to strengthen prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts.
We also need to protect Medicaid expansion, which is providing quality, affordable health insurance coverage to more than 50,000 people in New Hampshire, including coverage for substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health services. Substance-use disorder treatment includes access to medication-assisted treatment, counseling, and other recovery and support services that help those struggling with addiction. And we need to maintain the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that ensures that all insurance companies cover what are known as Essential Health Benefits, such as substance use disorder and behavioral health services, as well as maternity care.
Unfortunately, the American Health Care Act, also known as Trumpcare, which was recently passed by Republicans in the House of Representatives, would end Medicaid expansion and undermine the requirement that insurance companies must cover these Essential Health Benefits. I will continue to stand up against this backward Trumpcare proposal in the days and months ahead.
I have worked across the aisle with Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida, and with Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, to cosponsor the STOP Act to curb the importation of deadly fentanyl and carfentanil to drug traffickers here in the United States. I've also cosponsored legislation to establish a permanent funding stream to provide and expand access to substance use disorder treatment to help ensure that pregnant and parenting women who are ready to seek treatment have access those critical services.
This fight is far from over. But on Mother’s Day — and every day — let us be reminded of the courage of the grandmother who shared her family’s story with me, and let us mark her courage with our action and constant vigilance.
No child should enter this world trembling from opioid withdrawal. As we honor the importance of mothers to their families — and to our entire society — we should do everything we can to support a mother who is seeking treatment for substance use disorder, and when it is safe to do so, keep the mother and child together. I will continue fighting every day to support Granite Staters and Americans struggling to get the treatment that they need, and to support all of the dedicated professionals on the front lines battling this crisis. By working together we can — and we will — stem the tide of addiction and build stronger, healthier families.