A substantial number of babies born in Ohio come into the world addicted to illegal drugs. It is a problem everywhere, including East Ohio.
But the precise extent of the crisis - and it is just that for babies who may suffer lifelong harm from drug addiction that began in the womb - is not known. A bill introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives could change that.
Hospitals in the Buckeye State would be required to report the number of babies addicted to drugs, if the bill becomes law. As incredible as it may seem, collection of statewide statistics on the problem is spotty.
A study conducted several years ago in West Virginia woke some people up to the challenge in the Mountain State. It involved collection of samples of blood from umbilical cords of newborns at eight hospitals, including one in Wheeling. The blood was tested for a variety of illegal drugs as well as for alcohol.
That study, about five years ago, found 146 of the 759 babies tested - nearly 20 percent - were born addicted to drugs and/or alcohol their mothers consumed while pregnant. If anything, the abuse is growing; one Charleston hospital reported recently that of 12 babies born one weekend, eight were addicted to drugs.
Babies born addicted suffer excruciating pain during withdrawl. Many never overcome the effects of drugs in their blood at a time when they were powerless to do anything about it.
Local hospitals on both sides of the Ohio River have had to establish special programs to help such infants.
Again, however, Ohio officials know a crisis exists, but do not know how many newborns it affects, what chemicals are involved, and where the challenge is most prevalent. The reporting bill could provide information allowing more effective action to curb the problem.
State legislators should approve the measure, but ensure it is comprehensive. As it stands, the bill reportedly covers only addiction to opiods, such as heroin. It should be expanded to cover a wider range of illegal drugs, prescription medicines and alcohol.
Adding to the cost and paperwork burdens health care providers face as a result of government action usually is not a good idea. In this situation, however, it could be a godsend to the youngest victims of drug addiction.