In his latest attempt to draw attention and support to the prescription drug abuse problem in Maine, Governor Paul LePage said in his radio address Wednesday that babies born drug-affected is an epidemic in the State. According to the Governor, so far about 770 drug-affected or dependent babies have been born in Maine this year alone. He estimates that by years end over 800 drug-affected babies will be born. That's roughly 1 in 12 babies in Maine. This is a sad statistic especially when you consider the fact that this number has almost quadrupled since 2005. One of the most common drugs that is affecting newborns in Maine is prescription drugs.
Babies born affected by or in withdrawal from prescription drugs are a problem throughout the country, with Maine being one of the worst states affected. According to a recent article, the number of newborns born affected by opiates or painkillers has tripled in the United States from 2000 to 2009. This condition is so common that now has a name Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS. NAS is bad for everyone. It's dangerous to the babies who are born with it and to the taxpayers who often have to end up bearing the brunt of the expenses for the newborns' treatment.
This is not the first time Governor LePage has made statements on the severity of the prescription drug abuse problem in the State. Maine is now looking to other states to see how they are handling their abuse problems. The interesting thing about prescription drug abuse is that it is seen more often in rural areas and not city environments with large black market drug trades.
There are many factors that can be blamed for the increase in prescription drug abuse in the state. For one, prescription drugs are easier to get now than ever before. In 2007, for example, the number of prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone increase to 180 million from 40 million in 1991. As prescription drug abuse is increasing, measures to stop prescription drug fraud are not able to keep up. Despite laws aimed to spot and stop prescription drug frauds like doctor shopping, obtaining the drugs is proving not that difficult for those who are determined. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a story of a local man who:
…managed to obtain 380,000 tablets of Oxycodone and Xanax from one family doctor in Philadelphia in less than two years by using a small army of accomplices recruited to pose as patients in severe pain.
Those in the position to dispense prescription drugs are also abusing their power. Recently a pharmacist in Augusta was convicted of stealing drugs including the painkiller oxycodone and the sleep aid Ambien. This is the most recent conviction in a string of prescription drug abuse cases in the state causing the Maine Office of the Attorney General to make a prescription drug abuse cases a priority. Anyone facing prescription drug abuse charges in the state is likely receive harsh sentencing in order to set an example for other abusers and discourage repeat offenses.