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Tennessee's effort to protect babies from mothers' drug use creates new problems

Tennessee's effort to protect babies from mothers' drug use creates new problems

As the abuse of opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, has risen in Tennessee, the number of babies born dependent on drugs has skyrocketed, increasing fifteenfold during the last 10 years. In an effort to combat this troubling trend, the state approved a controversial new law in 2014 to allow women who give birth to babies “harmed by” illegal drug usage to be charged with misdemeanor assault.

Under the law, “harm” can mean various things, but the impetus for it was the number of babies being diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome — a painful but treatable condition whose long-term effects have yet to be determined. Other states...

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