Tennessee Law to Prevent Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Fails

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Tennessee Law to Prevent Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Fails

Last week, Tennessee legislature opted out of the “fetal assault law” which penalized the mothers of babies who are born testing positive for drugs. The law was on a 2-year trial from 2014, and was not upheld due to insufficient votes. It will expire in July.

The law was widely opposed by medical health professionals, and has been extensively criticized for discouraging women from seeking medical care and drug treatment during pregnancy. AT least 100 women have been arrested due to the law.

The law intended to discourage women from using drugs while pregnant. Infants exposed to drugs while in utero may incur a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. This is basically a withdrawal syndrome which occurs within a day or two of birth, and can result in a myriad of troubling symptoms, including excessively crying, tremors, seizures, fever, sweating, increased heart rate, poor feeding, and vomiting, among others.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is usually caused by opiate withdrawals, but can also be caused by cessation from antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax.

Unfortunately, the law discouraged women from seeking prenatal care, and some turned to abortions.

A related bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives, due to a Reuters investigation in December which discovered over 100 cases of babies and toddlers dying after being exposed to opioids in the womb. The investigation revealed that the real issue was the thousands of families who did not receive the social support to which they were entitled.


“Being born drug-dependent didn’t kill these children, Each recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital. What sealed their fates was being sent home to families ill-equipped to care for them.”

Under the new bill, states will be required to report the number of babies testing positive for drugs every year, and well as the number of families who receive “plans of safe care”, and to educate social workers about how to best help the infants.

Allison Glass, Health and Free TN called the former law “dangerous and harmful” and that it “has jailed pregnant women and new mothers who have used drugs, instead of working to ensure that they have access to effective treatment options.”

Women can still technically be arrested before this law expires on July 1. If this occurs, however, the woman a reasonable likelihood of having the case dismissed.


This was the first and only law like this in the entire country. I hope other states are now deterred from enacting this type of law. Any law which results in people fearing to seek assistance is a really bad law to begin with. You can scare addicts straight. You just scare them away.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A,, Psychology

Related: Mississippi’s Increasing Substance Abuse Problem

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