Friday, September 14, 2012

Pregnant and Drug-Addicted: What Are the Options?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 at 5:00 AM

On Thursday I saw this story about Emily Crum, who has been charged with aggravated child abuse because her baby was born with drugs in its system.

Police said that 21-year-old Emily Crum's baby was born seven weeks prematurely in July and at 2-pound, 13-ounce the baby was found to have illegal drugs in its blood stream. According to officials, Crum took the pain-killer Percocet, smoked marijuana and smoked one to two packs of cigarettes per day while pregnant.

Crum is in jail and her baby is in foster care. But here's the part that troubles me. Crum was using two drugs that are very difficult for people to kick under the best of circumstances — nicotine and oxycodone. Even assuming that she could afford rehab, many rehab clinics won't take pregnant women. Plus many women can't take the time off to go to rehab when they're going to need to turn around and take time off because they're about to have a baby.

So, what, exactly, was she supposed to do?

I'm not saying that this situation didn't turn out exactly as it should have. Crum's baby does need to have someone watching out for it. But if we step back and look at the larger picture, I wonder if we don't need another option here.

Earlier this year, the Times Free Press reported that "Tennessee ranks in the top three states in the nation for the number of prescriptions written per population, with about 18 prescriptions a year written for every person in the state." And as a state, we pretty massively abuse oxycodone.

So, what to do with pregnant women who use and/or abuse oxycodone is going to be an ongoing question. Can we afford to arrest them all? Is it better for mothers and children to be separated just because the mother has addiction issues? And, even if it is, can we afford all those kids in foster care?

Over at Vanderbilt, they administer this program called MIHOW, or The Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker Program:

[MIHOW] is a parent-to-parent intervention that targets economically disadvantaged and geographically and/or socially isolated families with children birth to age 3. The program is designed to improve health and child development among these families. MIHOW employs parents from the local community as outreach workers and role models, who educate families about nutrition, child health, and development, and positive parenting practices. The outreach workers also provide links to medical and social services.

It does great work. And I wonder if there isn't a growing need for something like MIHOW but specifically targeted toward pregnant women and families with children birth to 3 who have drug problems — someone who is trained checks in on you regularly and makes sure you're getting to the doctor and that you've got the resources you need to get and stay clean. And let's be honest, even if you can't stay clean, the health outcome for your baby is going to be better if you get pre-natal care than it will be if you avoid the doctor because you are embarrassed about your addiction or afraid of losing your kid.

It just seems like there needs to be some way for a pregnant woman to say "I have a drug problem" and get the best help she can having a healthy baby, without living in terror that she's going to be charged with abusing the kid once it's born.

And I'm not sure what the best way is to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone. But I'd sure like to see us trying some things.

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