“I would have welcomed the help, and it would have changed my life.”

“VERY SCARED”: Tory Schlier accidentally suffocated her baby. At her sentencing, she said she had been “very scared to bring a helpless human being into the world.” In a letter from prison, Schlier writes that she needed help. REUTERS/Handout

A new Reuters story on newborns affected by the opioid epidemic highlights the inadequate treatment provided to addicted pregnant women.

In America, a baby is born dependent on opioids every 19 minutes. But doctors aren’t alerting social services to thousands of these infants, many of whom come to harm in families shattered by narcotics.

The article does a nice job of highlighting the heart-breaking systemic failures after the baby is born.

Reuters identified 110 cases since 2010 that are similar to Brayden’s: babies and toddlers whose mothers used opioids during pregnancy and who later died preventable deaths.

Being born drug-dependent didn’t kill these children. Each recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital. What sealed their fates was being sent home to families ill-equipped to care for them.

. . .

The cases illustrate fatal flaws in the attempts to address what President Barack Obama has called America’s “epidemic” of opioid addiction, a crisis fed by the ready availability of prescription painkillers and cheap heroin.

In 2003, when Congress passed the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act, about 5,000 drug-dependent babies were born in the United States. That number has grown dramatically in the years since. Using hospital discharge records, Reuters tallied more than 27,000 diagnosed cases of drug-dependent newborns in 2013, the latest year for which data are available. On average, one baby was born dependent on opioids every 19 minutes.

The federal law calls on states to protect each of these babies, regardless of whether the drugs their mothers took were illicit or prescribed. Health care providers aren’t simply expected to treat the infants in the hospital. They are supposed to alert child protection authorities so that social workers can ensure the newborn’s safety after the hospital sends the child home.

But most states are ignoring the federal provisions, leaving thousands of newborns at risk every year.

The article makes it clear that access to maintenance medications is not the problem. (These are frequently touted as the “treatment that actually worksmade inaccessible by anti-science zealots.)

Too often, addicts of all sorts are given a passive referral to treatment of inadequate quality, intensity and duration. (Whether it’s medication assisted or abstinence-based.)

What a perfect population to try a treatment model based on the gold standard. Why not provide these women with years of treatment, recovery support and recovery monitoring.  If there are ways in which the gold standard is not an ideal fit for their circumstances, what modifications and adaptations could be applied?

2 thoughts on ““I would have welcomed the help, and it would have changed my life.”

  1. The damage of addiction runs deep. Thank you for drawing our attention to one more layer which needs to be addressed; how to help mother’s impacted by the disease of addiction.

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