COVID Pandemic Has Made It More Difficult For Pregnant Women To Find Drug Rehab In North Carolina, Elsewhere | DFA 90.7
After years of intermittent drug use, Megan Sims wanted to get sober again. But she couldn’t bring herself to stop during the coronavirus pandemic, even when she found out she was going to have a baby. She had been in rehab before, but didn’t know how to do it during her pregnancy.
Sims, 28, from North Carolina, was forced to face her heroin addiction like never before when her drug use was reported to child welfare services last summer.
“None of my relapses had had any consequences until this last one,” she said.
Social workers urged her to go to rehab, but none of the services were adequate because most drug addiction programs consider pregnancy to be high risk. Through word of mouth, Sims discovered UNC Horizons, a substance use disorder treatment program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine designed for pregnant women and mothers.
“I needed a place to go that would accept me and be able to take care of my pregnancy,” Sims said. “Horizons saved my life.”
Experts say programs like Horizons, which allow children to stay with their mothers during addiction and mental health treatment, are the kind of full-spectrum rehabilitation needed to reduce the number of babies born to mothers who, like other Americans, are increasingly struggling with drug use.
With the rise of the opioid epidemic, there has been a growing movement among health professionals and social workers across the state to help mothers get sober rather than punishing their drug use by removing their drugs. babies, which can have lifelong effects. But such programs are rare in the rehabilitation world, and experts fear that even more limitations during the pandemic could stifle the little progress that has been made.
The Associated Press researched the number of babies who were exposed to drugs in all 50 states between 2018 and 2020 to assess the pandemic’s toll on families and found that most child protection agencies are starting only to understand the problem of drug use among pregnant women.
Several states have made policy changes over the past three years to help rather than penalize these women, but 31 states were unable or unwilling to provide data indicating whether more babies were born exposed to drugs during the period. pandemic. This is despite a federal mandate to report these numbers, showing how much remains to be done.
Hendrée Jones, executive director of Horizon, said she had seen an increase in the number of deaths and relapses among women who were stable in their recovery before the pandemic, an anecdotal trend in line with other populations struggling with drug addiction during the upheaval of American life in the past year and a half.
At the same time, Horizons was forced to reduce its capacity due to social distancing. It has always had long waits for its 40 beds, but since the pandemic the center has lost eight places because it cannot share its apartments with roommates. Jones is concerned about the women the program was unable to serve.
“The severity of substance use has increased dramatically since the pandemic,” Jones said of his clientele. “It’s really scary.”
According to the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare, this comes amid a four-fold increase in opioid use disorders among pregnant women over the past two decades.
The federal government responded by requiring states in 2016 to track and treat infants exposed to drugs and by allowing states in 2018 to reallocate some of the money from foster families to help families stay together. . Much of this work, however, has been disrupted by the pandemic.
“The federal changes haven’t really translated into local action,” said Dr. Stephen Patrick, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy, who is a leading national expert on drug-exposed babies. “States are a little confused about what is supposed to be done and miss a bigger picture. “
Child welfare agencies are still learning to navigate the new policy implications. In about half of the country, drug use during pregnancy is considered child abuse and doctors are required to report suspected cases, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports reproductive rights and tracks cases. state laws on substance use during pregnancy.
More and more states are moving away from child abduction, recognizing that the punitive “crack baby” fear era of the 1980s proved to be overblown and racially divisive.
The effort to support mothers who want to get sober is rooted in decades of research showing the lifelong consequences of withdrawing a baby – especially if they show no signs of being affected by the mother’s drug use – and the negative outcomes for children stuck in the overburdened and costly foster care system.
“Punishment doesn’t make anyone a better mother or make them want to consume less,” Jones said. “If anything, that exacerbates it. When children are taken away from their mothers, there is a risk of relapse.
For pregnant women faced with this reality, disconnecting begins with trying to find help.
Trouvertraitement.gov, the online directory maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services, does not include a search feature for pregnancy or even gender.
And while 19 states have or fund drug treatment programs for pregnant women, only 10 states protect them from discrimination in state-funded rehabilitation programs who may not want to take the risk of treating them. said the Guttmacher Institute.
Sims, who went to rehab at Horizons and gave birth to a healthy son in April during treatment, said the program was just what she needed. She called it a safe, non-judgmental place to get sober while still allowing her to be with her greatest motivation – her child.
“Once I had the baby, I felt like I had a purpose again,” Sims said.