Opioid summit: Babies born in Kentucky twice as likely to be born addicted

Published: Apr. 18, 2017 at 3:11 PM EDT
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Research shows a baby born in Kentucky is twice as likely to be born addicted to opioids than a typical American child. But doctors and researchers from the University of Kentucky are working hard to break the cycle, and they told a crowd at the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta that they are making progress.

Dozens of folks listened as medical experts described the unique challenges of treating expecting mothers with drug problems. Dr. Agatha Critchfield oversees the University of Kentucky's Pathways program, which offers help to addicted pregnant women before and after they give birth.

"Compared to no treatment we're doing great. We could always do better," Dr. Critchfield said.

The program started in 2014 and, Dr. Critchfield says they've treated about 150 mothers and around 75% of them are clean by the time they give birth. Another encouraging result - less than 30% of babies in their care experience Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. She says the key is treating patients early and following up often.

"So basically women come to us early in their pregnancies ideally and they get initiated into care. We follow them until they're about two years post partem, moms and babies."

Doctor Critchfield says more than 90% of the babies they take care of get to go home from the hospital with their mothers.

Another session provided information on how doctors and pharmacists are working together to prevent patients from getting addicted to opioids.

Presenters told the crowd they must look carefully for signs of doctor shopping and refer patients to treatment clinics. Another recommendation - tapering off an opioid prescription to prevent addiction in the first place.

Dr. Eva Quirion is a nurse practitioner in Maine and says one of the biggest mistakes providers make is looking down on a drug addict who genuinely needs help.

"We need to treat people with unconditional loving regard. It doesn't mean you have to love that person, but that they're a human being and somebody's relative," Dr. Quirion told the crowd. "People care about that person and so... to treat them with respect is super, super important. There's a huge stigma surrounding substance use disorders."

Pharmacists and prescribers say overcoming that stigma is one of their biggest obstacles.