Trailblazing program assists pregnant patients with opioid use disorder
As opioid abuse continues to ravage the nation, ETSU's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology is blazing a trail to assist patients with building a better future for the next generation.
About 10% of pregnant patients within the Applachian Highlands are opioid exposed. Tragically, opioid-exposed newborns frequently encounter neonatal abstinence syndrome — medical challenges such as having smaller heads and altered brain structure. Later in life, these children often face behavioral health and academic challenges, including lower school performance as a group compared to the general population.
The Department of Obsetetrics and Gynecology offers a voluntary program to assist pregnant patients with opioid use disorder who are receiving buprenorphine medication-assisted therapy. Many of these patients wish to discontinue this medication while pregnant in an effort to reduce the liklihood of their children being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome encompasses a variety of medical and behavioral issues a newborn might face after exposure to opioids as a fetus. Symptoms can include irritability, tremors, slow weight gain, vomiting, diarrhea and more.
Patients who enter the voluntary program agree to lower their buprenorphine dosages over time. Through the program, the women are able to receive MAT treatments, prenatal care, counseling and case management all at one site. This allows for consistent, comprehensive care that is also respectful of the patient's autonomy, time and resources.
"Only a minority of patients come off buprenorphine completely, but patients who lower their dosages to zero have babies with neonatal abstenance rates of zero," said Dr. Martin Olsen, interim chair of the department. "The care of patients who make such great strides in their personal battles with addiction is very rewarding."