COVID-19 adding to stresses, substance use during pregnancy

The Norton Maternal Opiate and Substance Treatment (MOST) Program seeks to break the cycle of addiction

As the nation’s attention turns toward the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, providers are seeing many pregnant patients engaging in unhealthy behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use, to cope with the stress of the pandemic.

Across all demographics, mental health issues have increased with the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study out of Washington State University. Individuals who are pregnant and have substance abuse issues are particularly vulnerable for at-risk health issues.

Marijuana is currently the most commonly used illicit drug for those patients seeking treatment during pregnancy, with opioids and methamphetamine the next most common.

Studies show that for mothers using illicit drugs, including marijuana, the risk is twice as high for preterm labor, poor fetal growth, intrauterine growth restriction, stillbirth and bleeding during pregnancy.

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Breaking the cycle of addiction

A few years ago, the community of obstetricians at Norton Healthcare realized that this opiate epidemic really needed a solution. So in July 2015, the Norton Maternal Opiate and Substance Treatment (MOST) Program was started with the goal of breaking the cycle of addiction.

“By then the prescription pain pill addiction epidemic and heroin epidemic were well underway,” said Jonathan W. Weeks, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “We were seeing a growing number of young pregnant patients who were affected by substance use disorders.”

Substance abuse treatment can be hard to find for pregnant patients, so the MOST Program was created to educate about the dangers of drug or alcohol use during pregnancy, and also offer compassionate care focused of the health of mother and baby.

“We really wanted to get them into care earlier by getting the word out that there are places you can go where we’re going to start your obstetrical care and your addiction care right away,” Dr. Weeks said.

The MOST team includes a social worker with years of experience, specifically in substance use disorder counseling and assessment, giving the patient total care in a primary care setting.

By breaking the cycle of patients seeking medications by going to different emergency departments, the MOST Program has made it much easier for vulnerable patients to access prenatal care and addiction medicine care.

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