Implications of Tennessee's Opioid Legislation for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Academic Article


  • Opioid use during pregnancy is on the rise in the United States. Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), also known as newborn drug withdrawal, is a public health epidemic. Between 2004 and 2014, Tennessee experienced a fivefold increase in NAS hospitalizations, from 1.5 to 8.0 per 1,000 live births. Soaring increases in the number of newborns with NAS nationwide have caught the attention of many federal and state lawmakers, especially given the unknown burdens associated with medical and social services needed by those affected over time. Tennessee opioid-related regulations and laws enacted between 2000 and 2018 were systematically reviewed and analyzed to identify each law's purpose; effects on families and individuals; pros and cons in terms of social, practical, and legal factors; and implications for nursing practice. Our findings were that Tennessee's laws are intended to decrease the number of opioids prescribed, ensure access to continued prenatal care and substance abuse management for mothers with substance use disorders, and reduce the ease of obtaining opioids. We also found that Tennessee lawmakers have enacted laws and regulations aimed at decreasing the abuse of opioids, but not reducing the incidence of NAS. As new laws are considered, it is critical that health care providers and lawmakers work together to ensure that the developed and enacted laws strike a balance between safely managing the care of both pregnant women and their newborns without producing negative outcomes.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Shearer JN; Erwin PC; Davis SK; Anderson JG; Lindley LC
  • Start Page

  • 153
  • End Page

  • 162
  • Volume

  • 20
  • Issue

  • 3