Law professor and alumnus propose prenatal opioid screenings for expectant mothers

Article will run in the Summer 2017 issue of the Harvard Journal on Legislation

Professor Jeremiah Ho

In an article that will run in the Summer 2017 issue of the Harvard Journal on Legislation. University of Massachusetts School of Law Professor Jeremiah Ho and alumnus Alexander Rovzar (UMass Law ’16) propose a bold policy that would promote voluntary prenatal opioid screenings for expectant mothers.

The article, “Preventing Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome within the Opioid Crisis: A Uniform Facilitative Policy,” examines the rise of NAS among pregnant women affected by the nation’s opioid epidemic. NAS is a cluster of health complications that can occur in newborns who have been exposed to addictive opiates while in their mothers’ wombs.

While praising the current efforts of the Governor Baker and the Legislature to address the opioid crisis, Ho and Rovzar argue that an even more proactive and uniform policy aimed at reducing the number of drug-dependent newborns is needed.

“The opioid epidemic requires swift, assertive and proactive response by the Legislature in light of the epidemic’s severity,” Ho said.

The proposed screening would be voluntary and begin at the patient’s first prenatal visit. The process would be used only for medical purposes and protected from law enforcement for the patient’s confidentiality. The protocol would be adopted as a statewide standard to identify NAS before women give birth

In addition to the devastating effects on infants born with the syndrome and an average cost per treatment center stay of $93,400, NAS presents a burden to state taxpayers specifically in the southern New England states where the opioid epidemic has hit particularly hard.

The proposal was inspired by the UMass Law Review’s symposium in Spring 2016, which focused on the opioid epidemic. “In our examination of NAS, we wanted to analyze the problem but also propose a proactive solution that can be reviewed by state legislators and implemented across Massachusetts,” said Rovzar, the former Editor-in-Chief of the UMass Law Review.

“UMass Law is the Commonwealth’s law school and is dedicated to serving the public interest, through the work of faculty and students,” said UMass Law Dean Eric Mitnick. “This bold proposal, based on sound research, demonstrates our focus on public service and justice.”

The article will be published in the Harvard Journal on Legislation in the Summer 2017 issue, and is currently available online at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2842061.

More about UMass Law

Established in 2010 in Dartmouth, UMass Law is the Commonwealth’s only public law school and is dedicated to the practice of law in the public interest. The 200-member student body, one of the most diverse in the country, has performed nearly 80,000 hours of service to the community. It’s Justice Bridge legal practice incubator program, based in Boston and New Bedford, is providing affordable civil legal services to thousands of people who otherwise would be going to court without legal representation.


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