Prescription-abuse babies a growing ‘crisis’ in Manatee, say advocates

Manatee County Commission hears pleas for stiffer ‘pill-mill’ ordinance

skennedy@bradenton.comNovember 9, 2011 

MANATEE -- There’s a growing epidemic of babies being born addicted to prescription drugs ingested by young mothers, representatives of substance abuse organizations told county commissioners Tuesday.

One out of every three women seeking help with unplanned pregnancies now tests positive for such drugs, said Donna Vallenga, executive director for SOLVE Maternity Homes, with facilities in Bradenton and Englewood.

“These pregnant girls should not be getting these prescription drugs,” she told the board. “It’s just wrong.”

To counter that problem, the representatives pressed the commission to require pregnancy testing of women of child-bearing age before a doctor prescribes opiates.

Babies born to women who have abused pain medications shake, are underweight and don’t want to eat, Vallenga said.

Luz Corcuera, program director for the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County Inc., said, “We have a great concern for a growing number of prescription-abuse babies.

“We are seeing our resources are overstretched because those babies are needing special attention.”

The situation has reached “crisis” proportions, according to Rita Chamberlain, coordinator for the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition, who estimated about 400 babies in the Tampa Bay area were born in 2010-11 with prescription drug addiction symptoms.

“We need to position ourselves away from being the weak link,” on the Gulf Coast, she told the board.

Other counties, such as nearby Sarasota, are passing stiff regulations to control rogue clinics that dispense prescription drugs for profit, and “the stronger your ordinance, the less likely these physicians will take up shop in your county, so if you have the weakest ordinance, they’ll come here,” said Ruth Lyerly, of Bradenton, a board member at the Substance Abuse Coalition and co-founder of Families Against Addictive Drug Abuse.

Also testifying was Kim Lott, of Bradenton, whose homeless son, Sam, 23, died last month after a long struggle with addiction to prescription pain medications, among other substances.

Choking back tears, she begged the commission to firmly address the problem.

“Please, please stop this madness, our children are dying at an alarming rate everyday,” she said, adding that Florida and Manatee are the epicenter of the problem.

“These doctors are merely drug dealers in white coats,” she said.

The substance abuse coalition recommended any new ordinance include:

n Expanded operational standards for clinics, beyond hours of operation and display of permit.

n A requirement that the clinic keep a monthly log of activities and timely updates to clinic staff personnel records.

n An exemption for physicians issuing fewer than 25 prescriptions for a controlled substance in a single day.

n Exemptions for hospice facilities and those who treat terminal illnesses.

The county is considering a new, permanent ordinance to replace an emergency ordinance it passed last year, which declared a 180-day moratorium on the registration for permits for new pain management clinics.

The moratorium has expired, but the ordinance will continue in effect until it is repealed or replaced, said Deputy County Attorney James Minix.

Currently, the county issues a special permit to those seeking to operate a pain management clinic, he said.

The system is designed to screen legitimate medical operations from bogus ones.

The board asked Minix to consult with representatives of the county medical association, those dedicated to halting substance abuse, the sheriff’s office and the state attorney’s office, and to also schedule a workshop.

The state, with seven people per day dying due to abuse of prescription drugs, has recently joined a majority of other states that operate a prescription drug monitoring system.

It will give pharmacies seven days to record the sale of controlled substances in a database.

Adherents say the tracking system will help to halt pharmacy-hopping for frequently abused drugs.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031

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