By Jennifer Hancock
What does it take for Americans to understand the reach of our opioid and addiction epidemic? Exaggerating the depth of our crisis is virtually impossible. More Americans died of overdoses in our nation in 2017 than died in the entire Vietnam war. More Kentuckians died of overdoses in 2017 than were killed in automobile accidents – almost 25 percent more.
In our work with Kentucky families, we see that virtually everyone in our commonwealth knows someone – loved one, friend, neighbor – who has been affected in a meaningful and personal way. That is not a surprise. Kentucky’s opioid death rate is almost double the national average. Only four states rates are higher.
Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome
Across Kentucky, behavioral health organizations are responding. In Louisville, Volunteers of America has been working to address a key component of our opioid and addiction crisis: helping pregnant and parenting moms working to overcome substance use disorder and deliver healthy babies.
To say that the rise of neo-natal abstinence syndrome (NAS)–health conditions caused when a baby withdraws from exposure to drugs while in the womb–has been dramatic does not begin to capture the fundamental way in which this crisis has transformed Kentucky. In 2001, the Kentucky Department of Public Health reported 46 babies born with NAS. In 2016, the number had increased to 1115 – a 2300 percent increase.
While the problem is daunting, the solution exists. Freedom House works because it is long-term, comprehensive and tailored to individual needs. Our treatment model offers a path to a sober and healthy future for moms and babies.
We provide licensed clinical, evidence-based and trauma-informed addiction recovery treatment services that help women give birth to and parent healthy and thriving children. Since the program began, almost 200 healthy babies have been born to mothers.
Our model is two-generational and family focused. We address mothers’ substance use disorder, heal and reunite families broken by mom’s addiction and provide primary prevention of future addiction for children of mothers in the program.
In addition to a rigorous clinical treatment program that includes evidence-based individual, group and family therapies, we work with mothers and their children to improve the health and functioning of the entire family. We provide or link to resources addressing safe infant sleep practices, healthy eating and exercise, smoking cessation, healthy relationships, parenting classes and vocational and educational attainment.
Our individualized, phased program supports mothers, newborns and older children throughout the recovery process. We believe in and use Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) based on each mother’s circumstances and needs, and we advocate for wider acceptance and usage of MAT as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
We engage families in long-term wrap-around care that prevents relapse as well as child abuse and neglect, poor health outcomes, homelessness and the intergenerational cycle of addiction.
In Kentucky today, nearly 10,000 children are in out-of-home placements. Our child welfare system is overwhelmed, and children and families are suffering. A key outcome of our comprehensive care is reuniting children with healthy moms in stable environments.
Million Dollar Outcome
These outcomes–united families and lower incidence of NAS–save Kentucky taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Intervention and treatment for moms struggling with substance use disorder is a million-dollar investment in a healthier Kentucky.
Our goal is to continue to expand our services to care for more moms and families. In May 2018 we opened VOA Recovery in Old Louisville, doubling our capacity to serve families. With the strong support of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy and the leadership of elected officials like State Senate President Robert Stivers, we will break ground on a facility in Southeaster Kentucky.
More to Do
Government must continue to support and fund this model – the return on investment is inarguable. Policy makers at all levels can continue to emphasize programs that provide support and make addiction recovery funding a priority. And we rely on community partners and donors to make our programs viable.
We encourage everyone in the healthcare industry–from medical professionals to insurance providers to community leaders–to examine how we are making this model work and to join us in this life-saving mission.
-Jennifer Hancock is president and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States in Louisville, Ky.