FINDING HOPE: Idaho Clinic Treats Pregnant Women Addicted to Opioids

Posted at 10:30 PM, May 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-22 14:11:40-04

Every 15 minutes in the United States, a baby is born in opioid withdrawal. That's according to a new study published in the journal "Pediatrics."

Babies born with replacement therapy medication can still go through some withdrawals, but the doctors know what to expect and can carefully make a plan to help the baby. Plus, the mothers on this medication are not strung out and can be an immediate and active part of their new child's life.

Sarah Vetter just found out she's having a boy. 

"He's right on target. He's 10 ounces. There are no concerns," says the soon to be a mother of five children. Her pregnancy is being carefully monitored at a new specialty clinic at St. Luke's Hospital in downtown Boise. Their focus is treating pregnant women who have substance use disorders. 

For Sarah, it's opioids. "In no way at all would I ever want to hurt my baby," says Vetter. She knew she couldn't handle the withdrawal from her prescription opioids. So she reached out for help from obstetrician Dr. Stacy Seyb. 

"He doesn't make me feel like I'm an addict or I'm a bad mom," states Vetter. Dr. Seyb does not expect substance dependent mothers to get clean and sober while pregnant. 

"It's very clear punishment is not the way to go about reducing these types of behaviors and pregnancy is a time when women are motivated to change themselves," said Dr. Seyb.

It may shock you, but Dr. Seyb and his team prescribe a replacement drug for these pregnant moms. Buprenorphine can cut the cravings for opioids and studies show it does not cause congenital disabilities. Some people may think it's controversial to treat drug addiction with another drug, but Dr. Seyb says his patients are finding hope. 

"If we are not taking care of mom, everybody is always worried about looking at what I'm putting in my body, well but what you forget is if you are not healthy and you are doing unhealthy things like using drugs off the street or getting high and withdrawing, those are the types of things that put the pregnancy at risk," says Seyb.

Sarah knows she can't just count on the medicine alone. She's relying on her family's support, gets counseling and talks to her recovery sponsor daily. But after years of abusing drugs, she's also realistic. "It is a disease, and there are little triggers that happen every day. Good things make you want to use. Bad things. It never goes away," says Vetter