B.C. clinic treats addicted pregnant women with compassion as U.S. looks to change stance
Nick Wells, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, February 20, 2017 10:00PM EST
An American medical group is calling for an end to jailing or prosecuting pregnant women who are addicted to drugs, a punitive measure in certain states, while a compassionate approach in British Columbia is showing positive results.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on Monday arguing that a public health response, rather than a punitive approach, is needed when approaching the opioid epidemic and substance use during pregnancy.
Some American states like Tennessee have laws that allow officials to prosecute or jail pregnant women who use drugs in a bid to protect the babies.
"I think we need to realize opioid use disorder is a clinical problem not a moral failing," said Dr. Stephen Patrick, a co-author of the statement, adding that the medical community needs to step back on how it approaches the increasing problem of pregnant women addicted to drugs.
The policy statement comes on the heels of recent Canadian data showing that four babies are hospitalized a day in Canada after being exposed to opioid drugs and other illicit chemicals before birth.
Some of those children will suffer neonatal abstinence syndrome NAS, a form of withdrawal withdrawal, with excessive crying jitteriness and a risk of fevers and seizures, after their birth and require morphine in a bid to wean them off drugs.
The method espoused by American doctors is currently being demonstrated in a Vancouver program that works to treat pregnant women without judging their addictions or past.
The Fir Square Combined Care Unit works to support patients in their efforts to get off drugs and transition back to society with their children.
"What Fir Square does, is it gives women a home, give them three meals a day, nurturing, support [and] addictions treatment," said Dr. Georgia Hunt, a perinatal addiction specialist at BC Women's Hospital.
The unit is based off a Scottish program operating in Glasgow, and has been operating for 14 years.
The program helped 200 women during pregnancy last year, and says only a quarter of the babies need treatment related to their mother's drug addiction after birth.
"I think it's very heartening. When a woman is pregnant, she wants the very best for her baby. And if you can form a therapeutic alliance with her at that moment of hope, there's a very real opportunity for her to change her life," said Hunt.
Patients say the help they've received from the unit has been life-changing.
Jade was addicted early on in her pregnancy to crystal meth and living on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
"I am 100 per cent a different person," she said.
Jade's newborn Jacob is perfectly health, with no signs of any damage from his mother's earlier drug addiction.
Canadian doctors say treating women by jailing them for their addictions only scares them.
"They are fearful of losing their children. Most women I work with want to parent and they feel really strongly about parenting," says Dr. Suzanne Turner, a family physician who runs a similar program at St. Michael's Hospital. "They fear they may have their children taken away from them as a result of their illness."
Turner, along with other Canadian doctors, is calling for an increase in the number of programs similar to Fir Square.
"We need to make sure in every community where there is a woman with an opioid addiction, we need to provide this very important care," she said.
With a report from CTV News' medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip