SC lawmakers address prenatal substance abuse through bill

March 29, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers are considering legislation that would require doctors, nurses or other medical professionals to report a child showing symptoms of withdrawal from drug or alcohol exposure while in the womb.

Medical professionals already must report abuse. The new measure would require them to submit a report to the Department of Social Services if they find that a child less than a year old is medically affected by prenatal substance abuse or withdrawal.

A report of alcohol or substance exposure does not presume abuse or neglect, according to the legislation.

The bill deals with an emerging and increasingly problematic issue because of the opioid epidemic and reports will help speed efforts to promote the health of the baby and mother, bill author Rep. Russell Fry said.

“I think that as we look at the opioid crisis and how we deal with it, that I think it is very important that we have this reporting, and we’re able to help fast-track to get the baby healthy and also to get the mother back healthy,” the Surfside Beach Republican said.

Members of a House subcommittee endorsed the measure Thursday. Fry said a similar version of the bill failed to pass during a previous session.

Passing the legislation is essential to protecting babies who are substance exposed and having the department and state in compliance with federal law is important, Shawn Reeves with the South Carolina Department of Social Services said.

A plan of safe care for the mother and child is triggered by the federal government for any substance-exposed infant whether or not that reaches a level of abuse or neglect, Reeves said.

“If a mom is complying with her doctor’s plan, then that plan of safe care will be developed. And as long as she’s following that and everything looks right and the baby is being protected, it shouldn’t necessarily trigger an abuse and neglect case,” Reeves said.

The bill now goes to a full House committee.