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Pregnant Heroin Addicts Undergo Treatment To Minimize Fetal Exposure

Extensive research concerning the developmental outcomes of kids exposed in utero to heroin, methadone and other opiates has been conducted since the 1970s. Researchers have followed opioid-exposed children through infancy, into pre-school years and well beyond, and findings are in general fairly consistent. Scientific evidence suggests that newborn babies of opiate-using mothers may suffer from what's medically known as the " neonatal abstinence syndrome" (NAS). Babies born with NAS may go through symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal, primarily central nervous system and digestive system-related symptoms such as poor feeding and poor weight gain mainly due to ineffective sucking, diarrhea, vomiting, irritability, excessive sneezing, crying, yawning, tremulousness, seizures and death. These babies typically have small head circumference and are of low birth weight, conditions which pose an increased risk for developmental issues later in life.


In August 2014, Magee-Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center launched a comprehensive Pregnancy Recovery Center program that provides concurrent treatment for both opiate addiction and prenatal care and delivery. One of the first of its kind in the nation, the Pittsburgh program offers pregnant women who struggle with heroin and other opiate addictions the opportunity to begin proper treatment with buprenorphine on an out-patient basis that is fully integrated with the necessary obstetric services. In addition to buprenorphine, which is a relatively new practice that satisfies the craving for opiates without causing a high, patients will also be provided with clinic visits, routine prenatal care and behavioral counseling in an effort to significantly improve outcomes for pregnant opiate addicts and their babies.


The specialized program offered by Magee- Womens Hospital' s Pregnancy Recovery Center, created in collaboration with four local managed care organizations as well as the Allegheny County Office of Behavioral Health, offers comprehensive care for pregnant women struggling with opiate dependence by providing proper medical to significantly reduce withdrawal symptoms during pregnancy and prevent neonatal abstinence syndrome. The Pittsburgh program can thus help to minimize fetal exposure to opiates as well as effectively engage the mother as a leader in her long-term recovery.


Early research shows that babies born to mothers taking buprenorphine instead of methadone recover much faster after childbirth. According to Dr. English, pregnancy can significantly enhance a woman’s chances at recovering from heroine and other opiate addictions, because the instinct to care for their newborn babies is a powerful motivating factor for many women struggling with opioid dependence. Patients are required to get drug-tested every two weeks.


25-year old Chelsea Blackburn, who started on prescription painkillers and then spiraled into heroin addiction, causing her to lose custody of her two kids, was still using heroin last June when she found out that she was pregnant again. Chelsea decided to get help from the Pregnancy Recovery Center, which treated 350 pregnant heroin addicts in 2012 alone. Over 130 pregnant women have been admitted to the program so far and 60 % of them have successfully completed it. 27-year old Lindsay Duggan completed this program in 2014 while pregnant with twins and to date she remains clean.


Without this treatment, up to 80% of babies of opiate-using mothers are born with the neonatal abstinence syndrome. Through the Pittsburgh program, around two-thirds of the babies born are not addicted.

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