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Task Force To Make Recommendations On Prescription Drug Abuse And Babies

The Florida state task force on prescription drug abuse by pregnant women is finalizing its recommendations to present to the Florida Legislature. The group held one of its final meetings at the Capitol on Monday.

Last year, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi assembled the task force, made up mostly of agency heads, lawmakers and doctors. It’s addressing one of her priority issues: the high numbers of babies in Florida who are born addicted to prescription drugs or whose parents are prescription drug abusers.

“This is a problem all over our country. So, we really can make a difference, not only in Florida, for saving lives and money throughout the country,” Bondi said.

Prescription drug abuse is not only bad for babies’ health, but it’s also a drain on the state budget. On Monday, Secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, David Wilkins said, about half the kids placed in foster care are removed from their homes because of substance abuse.

“Almost 8,000 children are being removed on an annual basis because of substance abuse,” he reported.

Wilkins said, removing those children adds up to a cost of $160 million for the state every year.

He said, he’d like to recommend millions more in state funding for intervention and treatment services for drug-addicted parents. That way, the state would ultimately save money because it would cut down on the number of children who have to be removed.

Another proposal comes from task force member Joe Negron, a Republican Senator from Palm City. He floated the idea of creating criminal immunity for pregnant women who seek treatment for their prescription drug abuse.

“If I’m sitting there evaluating a medical problem, and I think there’s criminal implications for whatever medical problem I have, now I’ve complicated the situation and it may make me less likely to seek medical care,” he explained.

Negron said, he wouldn’t want to prevent law enforcement from doing their jobs but rather make it so a pregnant woman’s call for help wouldn’t be basis enough to start a criminal investigation.

All of the task force’s suggestions will be finalized at a future meeting before being presented to the 2013 Florida Legislature.

For more news updates from Jessica Palombo, follow her on Twitter at @Jessica_WFSU.