Addiction: Women trying to kick habit need resources

Ohio has seen its rate of infants hospitalized for opioid withdrawal symptoms soar to more than eight times what it was a decade ago. For 2015, it was 159 for every 10,000 live births. That boils down to approximately 84 infants being treated for opioid addiction in Ohio hospitals every day.

These babies are the most innocent of victims. Their mothers became pregnant while addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers (or both), and did not stop using. The result is an addiction that inflicts double the human damage and costs Ohio a lot of money.

According to a report in the Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio health department said in 2015 there was $133 million spent on newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome. A bed shortage in neonatal intensive care units only compounds the problem.

There is also a bed shortage in facilities equipped to take in expectant mothers who are want to conquer their addiction for the sake of the unborn babies. As part of its report, the Dispatch spoke with a woman named Cala Thomas who began trying to find a slot in a treatment facility as soon as she realized she was pregnant. She had to wait six weeks before there was room for her in a residential program.

To her enormous credit, Thomas tried to get a head start on the process — again, to protect her unborn child.

She attended weekly meetings and tried to detox herself.

“I didn’t know it was going to be that bad,” Thomas told the Dispatch. “I had pain, anxiety, vomited blood and I had to go to the ER.”

But she made it. And a spot opened up in a facility that helped her get sober and give birth to a healthy daughter.

Women like Thomas should not have to wait six weeks. Those for whom pregnancy triggers the desire to get clean should get help as quickly as possible. Ohio is struggling to figure out how to make that happen; and awaiting federal funding to renew and expand the Maternal Opiate Medical Supports program, which yielded good results last year.

Meanwhile, lawmakers, medical professionals, churches and other organizations who can gather resources should make these women a priority. If, like Thomas, their unborn child has provided them with enough spark to finally fight back against this poison; if they have “started thinking about her more than me,” as she put it, they deserve whatever support their communities and state can scrape up.

In 2015, more than 4,000 women in Ohio were either unwilling or unable to fight back, and were diagnosed with either drug abuse or dependence at the time of delivery. If resources can be found to reduce that number — if Ohio can tackle one of the greatest tragedies of this epidemic — the future of this fight might be that much brighter.

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