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A Closer Look: Q&A with Senator Ken Yager

Ken YagerTennessee State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) sponsored Senate Bill 459, which encourages pregnant women who use prescription opioids to access early prenatal care and substance abuse treatment.  In exchange, they would be given a safe harbor from having their parental rights terminated due to prenatal drug use.  He discussed the bill with us..

What influenced your decision to support early prenatal intervention rather than a punitive measure to address prenatal drug use?

We cannot simply arrest and convict our way out of prescription drug addiction in this state. We also need to be proactive about providing treatment to the mother and her child. This legislation gives pregnant women help when they most need it, and if it helps children and saves lives, then it will have done its job.

The health and medical community is very supportive of this legislation. Is  Department of Children’s Services supportive?

Department of Children’s Services were very much in support of providing an incentive to encourage women to get early prenatal care and substance abuse treatment when necessary. We were very careful to make sure the Department of Children’s Services was behind this legislation before we moved forward.

Will there be additional funding or access provided for prenatal care and treatment services?

There are plans to ask the Legislature to amend the Governor’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014 by asking for recurring funds to be made available to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Hopefully, with extra funding, we can expand treatment capability in this state.

Where does SB 459 stand currently?

The Bill has cleared the full Senate and passed out of House Health Committee. I do not anticipate any serious obstacles to this bill becoming law.

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