A collaborative new program caters to moms and moms-to-be struggling with opioids in Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties, where the rate of hospitalized infants born dependent on drugs in fiscal 2016 and 2017 was about twice the state average.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome, also known as infant drug withdrawal, is the technical term for a group of problems that occur in infants exposed to addictive drugs, often opioids, while in the womb. It's a chilling testament to the opioid epidemic's far-reaching effect on some of society's most vulnerable -- a population that often includes mothers and pregnant women battling their own drug addictions.
Embracing a nonjudgmental and community-based approach to care, area organizations and government agencies are participating in a new "Healthy MOMS" program that's connecting expecting mothers battling opioid use disorder with available resources. The goal of the program is to keep patients in recovery by connecting them with a network of providers offering a range of services, from prenatal and postpartum care to behavioral health services, addiction treatment and more.
"Our vision was to develop a single, coordinated care plan for opioid-addicted women where there was a strength of communication systems between partners," said Bette Cox Saxton, president and chief executive officer of Maternal and Family Health Services Inc., one of the participating organizations.
"From a bigger picture, this really was important because there was not a single, comprehensive care plan. Now we have systems in place. ... There's no wrong door here."
Other program participants include the Lackawanna County Office of Youth and Family Services, Susquehanna County Children and Youth Services, the Wright Center for Community Health, Moses Taylor Hospital, the Community Care Behavioral Health Organization, the Outreach Center for Community Resources and the Lackawanna/Susquehanna Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs. All of these represent "entry points" where opioid-addicted expectant mothers can access the program and its network of resources.
The program's goal is to help moms and babies get healthy, and to break the stigma associated with pregnant women suffering from addiction. Among other barriers, shame resulting from that stigma often keeps women from seeking care, said Barbara Durkin, director of the bicounty drug/alcohol agency.
Many such women also struggle with other issues, such as domestic abuse or a critical lack of family support, said Yurii L. Harden, a licensed clinical social worker with Maternal and Family Health Services. The program's network of partners and providers hopes to offer the support a patient may not otherwise have.
"It takes a village," said Wright Center Vice President of Grants and Strategic Initiatives Maria Montoro-Edwards, Ph.D. "We are here as a community responding to a community need, and are ready to provide that emotional, medical and social support to work toward a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby."
About 14 mothers-to-be have been referred to the program, which is supported by more than $900,000 in grant funding awarded through the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and the AllOne Foundation, respectively. Officials will seek other funding sources in the future, said Durkin, who emphasized the collaborative element of the program.
"If all the entities or systems are talking to each other based on what's in the best interest of the mom, (then) the outcome is going to be positive," Barbara Durkin said. "I think the more we can collaborate on the needs of these moms, the better of we are going to be."