Massachusetts Receives Grant to Treat Pregnant Drug-Addicted Women

By McCarton Ackerman 09/01/15

The number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has doubled in the last five years.

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Officials in Massachusetts are hopeful that a federal grant given to help treat pregnant women with opioid addictions will help stop a rising trend in babies being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) across the state.

Gov. Charlie Baker confirmed that Massachusetts was one of 11 states that received the grant. Dr. Robert Rothstein at Baystate Medical Center said that the number of babies experiencing withdrawal at the hospital has doubled in recent years, from 55 in 2009 to 110 last year. Other hospitals throughout the state have also reported similar increases.

The issue is also significantly more prevalent in Massachusetts than in other states throughout the country. Federal research confirmed in July 2014 that drug-addicted babies in the state were triple that of the national average, with over 1,300 babies in Massachusetts born with narcotics in their system.

But in some of these cases, babies born with NAS are due to mothers in recovery who are taking maintenance drugs to control their addiction. This is what Worcester native Michelle Frigon experienced when her son experienced withdrawal symptoms from the medications she took to address a former painkiller addiction.

“The women that are going through this have no allies,” she said to the Boston Globe. “No one thinks they deserve their kids. The thing people need to know is: Nobody wants to be like this.”

Many medical professionals don’t advise mothers in these circumstances to withdraw from recovery drugs during their pregnancy. The physically taxing process of withdrawal can lead to uterine cramping, rapid heartbeat and increased blood flow to the placenta, conditions that can result in miscarriage or preterm labor. Stopping methadone, even gradually, also increases the chance of a relapse.

“A lot of these moms are trying really hard to do what’s right,” said Dr. Munish Gupta, a newborn medicine specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “They’re in recovery from a terrible illness.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.