Bella's Law: Drug-dependent baby influences Tennessee prescription drug legislation

In 2011, Tennessee was the second highest state in the county for kilograms of prescription painkillers sold. This year, it's affecting more adults and children. Like Bella, for example. At three months old, she is not the typical baby. She suffers from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

While she was in the womb, her mother was addicted to morphine. The day Bella was born, she experienced withdrawals. "They got her stable, and they got her on morphine. Morphine or methadone to withdraw babies from opiate drugs," her grandfather Greg Jones says.

Babies with NAS are exposed to addictive legal or prescription drugs. Ten years ago, there were 50 cases of NAS in Tennessee. In 2013, there were 921 cases.

At the beginning of June 2014, there were 420 cases in just one week. Of those, 26 cases were in Sullivan County.

Dr. Kim Roller from the Watauga Recovery Center says the number has grown because addicted mothers don't have access to support. "The prescribing of opiates has increased since the late 90s, and also there isn't enough support for those people who do become addicted to prescription painkillers," she says.

And these babies are more expensive. The typical baby costs about $8,000, while a baby with NAS costs about $42,000.

Bella's grandparents, Kathy Houseright Jones and Greg Jones, got custody of her after ten days. "She has a lot of muscle tone issues, she stays really stiff sometimes, sometimes she wants to grasp her, her sucking is still on and off, real high-pitched cries," Greg Jones says.

The situation angered them, so they decided to speak up about NAS - a call that Tennessee Representative Tony Shipley heard.

He has been drafting a bill about the problem for over a year now called the Opiate Addiction Treatment Act of 2015. "What this does is lays down the procedures involved in the management of the addiction process," Shipley told News 5.

The bill addresses Suboxone, an accessible drug to treat addicts that often ends up in the wrong hands. Shipley hopes Bella's Law will change opiate addiction in Tennessee.

So that Bella, who her grandparents call "a blessing," keeps improving in hopes that one day she will be able to be a voice for children born like her.

Shipley plans to introduce the bill in January.

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