KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL) – A Kingsport baby was born last year with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome to a mother struggling with morphine addiction.
The “Opiate Addiction Treatment Act of 2015,” or “Bella’s Law,” was named after the little girl to put a face to legislation aimed at assuring addiction treatment, specifically medication-assisted treatment (often Suboxone or Subutex) is left in the right hands, with proper oversight.
News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern spoke with the Jones family for an update on Bella’s health, and found out where the legislation currently stands.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Bella turned 1 year old. The past year brought a series of “firsts.” Talking, walking, sleeping through the night, feeding herself – milestones that have brought Bella’s legal guardians, Greg and Kathy Jones, a welcomed sense of normalcy in the wake of Bella’s heartbreaking start to life.
“Of course with NAS babies, you don’t know what to expect,” Greg Jones said.
Doctors used what’s called “Finnegan scoring” to test Bella for NAS. Morphine treatment typically begins when the sum of three consecutive Finnegan scores is more than 24. Bella’s score? 63.
“From day 1, 8 hours later being put on morphine, to being on a ventilator, and then having to go through the withdrawal process for 23 days till she got to come home – but she’s been a fighter the whole time,” Jones said.
Bella’s grandmother Kathy, says Bella was in therapy for just three months. At 4 months old, she was at the level of a healthy 6-month-old.
“She has come leaps and bounds above where we thought she would be,” Jones said. “I really think god has blessed her and blessed us with her safety.”
Former State Representative Tony Shipley, who worked on Bella’s Law for well over a year, said his inspiration to reexamine the way Tennessee treats those battling addiction, was the high number of babies being born addicted to drugs. His bill would have addressed the oversight of medically assisted addiction treatment. But when he lost the reelection, Jones wasn’t sure where that would leave the push for change.
“I was deeply concerned,” Jones told News Channel 11.
But the bill now has new life in the hands of it’s current sponsor, State Representative Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville.) What originally began as Bella’s Law, has morphed into the Addiction Treatment Act of 2015.
“What this bill does, is it provides a good samaritan protection for individuals who are having a drug overdose and in good faith seek medical assistance for someone else who may be experiencing a drug overdose. It also limits the prescribing of Suboxone to a health care provider with a DEA X-number, and in circumstances in which the FDA has approved use of the drug. This bill also repeals a section of the code that allows an insurer to refuse payment to a provider if a patient seeks treatment, and it is determined that the patient is under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs,” Haynes said. “This is an effort to try and make sure that people get the treatment that they need, and cut down on so many of the tragedies that we’ve had here in Tennessee.”
The tragedies of addiction the Jones’ family, knows all too well.
The Addiction Treatment Act has passed the State Senate, and is currently in the House Health Subcommittee. The hope is for the bill to continue in the House next week.