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Shaheen meets with treatment team for mothers in recovery

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen met with a team at Coös County Family Health Services dedicated to providing treatment for pregnant woman and new mothers in recovery. (Photo by Jody Houle) (click for larger version)
August 15, 2018
BERLIN – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen came to Berlin last Wednesday to meet with a team dedicated to providing an adequate treatment program for pregnant mothers or new mothers who are in recovery. The meeting took place at Coos County Family Health Services – a partner in the treatment program.

Shaheen opened up the meeting thanking the team for their efforts. She referred to a mother that she met with prior to the meeting.

"She said that this feels like family and that this is the best place she found," said Shaheen.

The Senator said that the focus is to "think about what works" and to "direct as much support to what is working for kids."

She said the 21st Century Cures Act helps to provide "backhand support."

CCFHS has partnered with seven cities that provide maternal care as part of a team effort within the state. Shaheen helped acquire $2.7 million in grant funding for Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center that uses its center for parents in recovery to help provide treatment services for pregnant mothers and new mothers and their partners and to provide different approaches for treating new born babies who suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is caused by drug use, specifically opiate use, by the mother while the baby is still in the womb. The baby suffers withdrawal symptoms which can last for months. Other partners in the program include Andrsocoggin Valley Hospital and Northern Human Services.

Deborah Alonzo, Director of Woman's Services of CCFHS revealed that, in 2016, there were 13 mothers at AVH who dealt with opioid addiction – two of the newborns were treated with morphine to gradually wean them off in order to help with withdrawal symptoms. In 2017, there were seven patients, and in 2018 there have been eight so far. However, none have been treated with morphine. Other prescribed medications used in the weaning process are methadone, suboxon the new, expensive vivitrol.

Alonzo explained that a new approach is being used – eating, sleeping, consulting. Mothers and their partners are taught to use food, sleep,and comforting to help their newborns with their withdrawal symptoms.

Another part of the program provides mothers and their partners with one-on-one peer support with a recovery coach and social worker and drug, alcohol and mental health counseling.

Shaheen, who noted that asked how costs for medications are covered when patients cannot afford them. CCFHS Chief Operating Officer Patricia Couture explained that there is a donation fund. Couture said CCFHS is applying for HSRA (Health Resources and Services Administration) grant to help cover costs.

According to Clint Emmett, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, said that Vivitrol is effective medication to battle opioid withdrawals, but authorization is difficult and a lot of insurance companies won't cover it. Additionally, it is very expensive – it costs $1600 per injection once a month whereas medications like methadone are used daily.

Aside from treatment, one team member mentioned that it is important to look at things before treatment like trauma mental health issues in order to try to prevent substance abuse.

"We should address children at the beginning of life – we are seeing what happens when we don't do that," said Shaheen.

Space is an issue at CCFHS, but the staff has given up it's break room and some offices to help provide services for moms in recovery. Future expansion is being discussed.

"People are driving hours to get this kind of help," said CCFHS CEO Ken Gordon.

CCFHS President of the Board of Directors Guy Stever congratulated everyone involved.

"What a great experience it is to be working with such a group like this," said Stever.

Shaheen concurred and added that the treatment team should be acknowledged "as an example to cite."

The Senator expressed the importance of Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act which helps in the effort to access adequate health care.

"Addiction is a chronic disease, and we need to treat it that way," Shaheen said in closing.

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