State attorney general meets with task force

State Attorney General Pam Bondi met with her Statewide Task Force on the Progress of Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns at the Capitol on Monday.

Catherine Johnson, a graduate student at Florida Gulf Coast University from Fort Myers, Fla., was a substance abuser three years ago after she found out she was three weeks pregnant and checked in for treatment.

Johnson shared her story about her addiction on prescription drugs and alcohol abuse.

“I checked in and was ready to get help,” Johnson said. “If it wasn’t for the funds that were given, I wouldn’t have gotten right into treatment, and my baby might have been born being addicted to drugs or I may have lost him through a miscarriage.”

Johnson is now a sponsor for women at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and treatment centers, carrying a message of hope for them.

The task force is about the awareness of women suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome, a relatively new diagnosis of a disease that affects mothers and their babies.

In 2012, Florida Legislature recognized the problem, creating a task force to examine the extent of prescription drug abuse among expectant mothers. Bondi said the task force reached its goal sooner than expected.

“We had three years to complete our task,” Bondi said. “We reached it less than a year and then actually began implementing it right away.”

It was important for the task force to reach the goal in a short amount of time on a disease that is new to the Legislature. The task force wanted to reach as many women as possible and succeeded with 600 women calling the hotline and 500 women in bed for treatment.

Doug Leonardo, executive director of BayCare Behavioral Health, said the task force did a good job at providing services and resources that are available in communities.

“It’s better to understand the issues that exist and there are some of the drivers behind it and across the state,” Leonardo said.

Babies with NAS require a more costly hospitalization. The cost of caring for a newborn with NAS was estimated to exceed $53,000 per infant in 2009.