Local health professionals react to rate of pregnant women addicted to opioids quadrupling

By Alison Wickline - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - Local health professionals are reacting to the rise in pregnant women battling the opioid epidemic. Previously, we told you about a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report which shows the number of women in the U.S. using opioids and having babies quadrupled in a 15-year-period.

The dramatic jump in the number of women hooked on opioids and having babies in hospitals is not surprising to Jeanne McCormack. She runs Bethany Hall, a residential treatment facility for women, particularly those who are pregnant or postpartum. 

"We've definitely seen a great increase. I think more and more women who are applying are pregnant and addicted to heroin or prescription medications," said McCormack, the executive director of ARCH.

The CDC studied delivery hospitalizations in 28 states. In 1999, 1.5 of every 1,000 women coming to a hospital to deliver depended on or abused opioids. That rose to 6.5 in 2014.

Opioid use during pregnancy can cause death of the mother or baby and infant withdrawal symptoms like seizures, excessive crying and breathing problems.

So why can't pregnant women stop using?

"That is not the nature of addiction. It is far too strong a disease. The changes that happen neurochemically make it almost impossible to just stop on will alone," said Dr. Jennifer Wells, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion. 

Dr. Wells says the key to shrinking those statistics is reducing stigma -- getting more expectant mothers on the road to recovery through methadone or suboxone. While some believe that is trading one drug for another, Wells says babies born dependent on methadone or suboxone face less severe complications. 

"If our goal is to get healthy moms that have healthy babies then we all need to open our minds a little bit," said Wells. 

McCormack agrees. 

'The women that we've had in the program who have been prescribed suboxone or methadone who have given birth to babies who are also on methadone do very well out in the community," said McCormack. 

It's a struggle to solve the opioid epidemic as it wreaks havoc on those most vulnerable.

To read the full CDC report, click here
 

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