Op-ed: Developing best practices in early child care can help prevent prenatal opioid addiction


U.S. Rep. Darren Soto
  • U.S. Rep. Darren Soto
Quality early child care can make a huge difference over the course of a person’s life. Positive child care habits and decisions made by parents early on can help put a child on an upward trajectory toward strong mental and physical health. For these reasons, my office has been honored to work with Nemours Hospital in Florida’s Ninth Congressional District to fund and promote the National Early Child Care Collaboratives Program.

In this latest 2018 funding bill, we successfully secured $4 million in funding for this critical program. It allows Nemours to continue to have a profound effect on national child health by establishing and reforming best practices to train teachers and other early care professionals, as well as state and local governments. These professionals and officials can in turn help educate parents about properly taking care of and feeding infants, important physical activity, and other healthy habits for child-rearing throughout America.

We now face new challenges in early child care in America as the number of babies born to opioid-addicted parents has increased at an alarming rate.

Nemours has advised me that our nation has yet to develop best practices for treating these fragile infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). This is why I have teamed up with U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and others to encourage the National Institute of Health (NIH) to support development of these best practices through proposed report language in the FY 2019 Labor-HHS Budget. More specifically, the report language would instruct NIH to support additional research on prevention, identification, and treatment of prenatal opioid use exposure and NAS, including best methods for screening and treating pregnant women for opioid disorder and infants for NAS.

I was also proud to support $6 billion in funding for opioid abuse and mental health treatment in the bipartisan budget deal in February. However, this was just a start to addressing the national need to rehabilitate numerous Americans in states grappling with the opioid crisis. According to a 2017 Florida Department of Law Enforcement Report, Florida had 5,725 deaths caused or related to opioids in 2016, which is an over 25 percent increase from 2015. While new state laws limiting most painkillers to three days as well as updates to the prescription database program will help stem new addiction, we must also focus treatment on the many who are already facing addiction.

We have the opportunity right here in Central Florida to focus on NAS as a critical aspect of this terrible epidemic and to develop best treatment practices to help vulnerable infants across our nation. We can prevent future victims of this epidemic, starting one healthy baby at a time.

Congressman Darren Soto represents Florida’s 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Osceola County as well as parts of Orange and Polk counties.