Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a condition used to identify babies born to drug-dependent mothers who experience withdrawal after birth and has become a diagnosis of epidemic proportions in East Tennessee. In ten years, Tennessee has seen a ten-fold increase in prevalence of NAS diagnoses. Anderson County continues to top the list of the number of diagnosed cases: last year there were 29.


In 2014, Tennessee passed SB1391, which became Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 39-13-107 and 39-13-214. The fetal homicide law allowed a woman to be prosecuted for the use of a narcotic while pregnant, if her child was born dependent to or harmed by the narcotic drug. The bill allowed a woman enrolled in a long-term addiction recovery program to be exempt from prosecution.


The law, which was enacted with the best of intentions, resulted in unintended consequences, showing a direct effect on prenatal care and little to no effect on the prevalence of NAS diagnoses across the state. Prior to the law going into effect, in six months, only two babies were admitted to the NICU at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital whose mothers did not receive prenatal care during her pregnancy. The six months following the law going into effect, that figure quadrupled: one year later, there were 33 NICU NAS admissions with no prenatal care in a six-month period, an increase of 1,000%. During the same time period, total NAS diagnoses in the state continued to increase.


During the 2016 Legislative Session, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to discontinue the controversial law. It is too soon to measure if there will be a direct effect on prenatal care; however, early data suggests the lack of prenatal care may be shifting in the right direction.


Either way, prenatal care is a critical component to delivering a healthy baby. BornDrugFreeTN.com is a collaborative project born from an idea generated by the ASAP coalition years ago. Through a multi-pronged education effort, the Born Drug-Free Tennessee campaign provides important information for women of childbearing age, family members, and healthcare providers. A major focus of the campaign is linking the community to resources necessary to have a healthy pregnancy.


For more information, please visit www.BornDrugFreeTN.com.

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