New group addresses addiction in pregnancy

Affected babies can suffer developmental problems
Jul. 13, 2013 @ 03:12 PM

LeConte Medical Center, in partnership with East Tennessee Children's Hospital and the Sevier County Health Department, as well as other area community agencies, is launching a group called MOMs, which stands for Moms on Meds. The group will provide support to women who abuse substances during pregnancy.

MOMs will host a meeting on Aug. 16 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Sevierville. The event is open to anyone interested in learning about the organization.

The task force, composed of individuals from each of these agencies, has been in the planning stages of developing the organization for the last two years.

A 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that an estimated 4.4 percent of pregnant women reported use of an illicit substance during pregnancy. Locally, 10 percent of patients tested positive for drug use prior to labor and delivery that year, according to Dr. Jennifer Maddron, an obstetrician and gynecologist at LeConte.

Maddron believes part of the reason this number is so high is the lack of local resources available to pregnant moms or others struggling with addiction. The new group seeks to combat the problem.

"Pregnancy offers a perfect opportunity to provide intervention not only to the mother, but also the unborn babies, and other families in the community that may be struggling with addiction," Maddron said. "Our mission is to partner with others working on the problem of drug addiction to maximize our efforts."

Many babies born to mothers who are substance abusers have neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can be life threatening or lead to developmental problems. During pregnancy, drugs are passed to the baby through the placenta, and the baby becomes addicted. Because the baby is no longer getting the drug after birth, withdrawal symptoms may occur.

"These babies may also suffer from emotional issues later on," Maddron said. "We don't even know what the long-term impact may be. That's why it's important to provide information on the front end, and intervention when needed."

Babies with the syndrome require lots of extra health care, Maddron said. Typically, a drug-exposed baby is transferred to East Tennessee Children's Hospital in Knoxville. In 2011, 19 of the 38 babies that were transferred to Children's from Leconte had problems related to drug exposure.

"From the overcrowding in our jail, to the overwhelming number of children placed in the foster care system in our country, addiction is something that can no longer be ignored," said Amanda Paletz, marketing and communications manager for LeConte Medical Center.

"We want to pool our resources together in the community to have help here for those struggling with drug addiction, and to give them a helping hand to get back on their feet again," Maddron said. "That's our primary goal."

jfrye@themountainpress.com