Minnesota leads by providing opioid addiction treatment to expectant mothers
Ashley credits her son, Grayson, with saving her life. “I can pretty much guarantee you we wouldn’t be sitting here,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t even be alive.”
Ashley’s opioid addiction started when she was just a teenager after she received an opioid prescription for a basketball injury. A decade and a half later, pregnant with Grayson, she finally found an addiction treatment that worked – the First Steps to Healthy Babies program.
First Steps to Healthy Babies treats pregnant women who are using opioids so they are able to take their babies home from the hospital. Without the program, Ashley says she would not have been able to maintain custody of Grayson or her other three boys.
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Opioid addiction treatment during pregnancy
Convinced they could help moms like Ashley break cycles of addiction and build strong, healthy families, Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, Red Lake Nation and Beltrami County came together to create the First Steps to Healthy Babies program in 2014, funded by a grant from PrimeWest Health. The hospital screens all women for opioid use during prenatal care. Women who test positive for opioids are invited to participate in the voluntary program.
First Steps to Healthy Babies has been effective because it addresses the many causes of addiction. Just like heart disease or diabetes, addiction is a medical condition that requires treatment. In the same way that other medical conditions affect the body, opioid addiction changes brain chemistry, making it nearly impossible for someone who experiences addiction to function normally without opioids. To treat the physical addiction, some pregnant women in the First Steps to Healthy Babies program are prescribed medication that suppresses the brain’s need for opioids.
Treating physical addiction helps women maintain stability to address factors that contribute to dependence on opioids like unemployment, lack of safe housing or absence of social support for sobriety. First Steps to Healthy Babies case managers are in touch with women in the program almost daily through phone calls and home visits. They facilitate healthy pregnancies by providing transportation to medical appointments, supporting addiction treatment and counseling, and helping find safe housing and employment for the women in the program.
Treating moms’ addictions helps newborn babies, too. The hospital has seen the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (or pre-birth exposure to opioids) plateau for the first time in years. As moms break cycles of addiction, newborns start off life with supportive care from their biological parents.
Mothers and their newborns remain in the program for a year after the baby’s birth, receiving the support and education they need to create healthy homes for their children.
Minnesota needs more opioid addiction treatment
Today, Ashley uses her firsthand experience to help others break cycles of addiction. She’s also a mom to four healthy boys. Her success story is becoming common – nearly every woman who completes the First Steps to Healthy Babies program is able to take her baby home from the hospital.
Ashley’s story is a reminder that opioid addiction touches every community. In some Minnesota hospitals, more than 1 in 15 babies are born experiencing opioid withdrawal. It is time for Minnesotans to work together to turn the tide, and Ashley has a message: “Don’t ever hesitate to ask for help. I’m a firm believer that people deserve a second chance. People can change. If I can do it, anybody can.”