Reducing Prenatal Exposure
The opioid crisis affects every race, economic class, religious affiliation, age, culture, and gender. Although opioid addiction can strike anyone, there are certain groups of people who may lack the knowledge or resources necessary to prevent addiction or get treatment for it.
The population health and clinical research team at the National Center for Wellness & Recovery is passionate about identifying populations who are at greater risk for addiction and substance use and developing targeted programs to meet their unique needs.
By collaborating with organizations who have common goals, NCWR is able to leverage existing community resources and networks to increase education and improve access to health services for rural and underserved populations throughout Oklahoma.
One often hidden consequence of the opioid crisis occurs with newborns who have been exposed to opioids and other substances while in the womb. When a pregnant mother takes an opioid, the drug enters the baby through the umbilical cord and the baby becomes dependent on the drug along with the mother.
Once born, babies can exhibit symptoms associated with withdrawal including tremors, seizures, fever, low birth weight, difficulty feeding, and more. This is referred to as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) or Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS) both of which frequently require special care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before a baby can go home.
NAS can also result in developmental delays, problems with motor and learning skills, behavioral issues, and difficulties with growth, hearing, and vision throughout childhood.
With the number of NAS cases up sharply over the last decade, the population health and clinical research team at NCWR implemented the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) NAS to shift this trend.
The RCORP-NAS program is a multi-year initiative through the Health Resource System Administration (HRSA) aimed at reducing injury and death due to NAS in Creek, Okmulgee, Osage, Pawnee, Rogers and Wagoner counties as well as the Tulsa metropolitan area.
The RCORP-NAS team at NCWR engages with communities to reduce stigmas, provide educational resources and improve access to prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant women and women of childbearing age who are at high risk for Substance Use Disorders (SUD) and Opioid Use Disorders (OUD).
Oklahoma’s criminal justice system has a very high number of women, most of whom need treatment for SUDs and OUDs. NCWR works with local county jails, courts and the Women’s Justice Team (WJT) to connect these women with resources, parenting classes and addiction and mental health services.
NCWR distributes educational resources to medical professionals through the existing virtual training network, Project ECHO, allowing providers across Oklahoma to access advice from experts on how to identify and safely treat substance disorders and prevent injuries due to NAS.
Chetana Musapeta, MPH, the project manager for RCORP-NAS at NCWR, strongly believes there are a lot of great people in local communities in northeast Oklahoma trying to make a positive impact on addiction and NAS. “Our community members are hungry for change, but they are working in silos,” said Musapeta. “One of our goals is to create bridges between these silos and combine resources to make a more effective impact.”
The opioid crisis is personal for Musapeta as she watched a family member struggle with opioid use disorder and eventually succumb to the disease. “Back then we did not understand the opioid crisis as we do now. My family felt very isolated and helpless,” said Musapeta. One of her objectives is to provide education to the families of those struggling with addiction, and resources to help prevent opioid misuse. “Treatment is available, family and peer support is necessary and recovery is achievable,” said Musapeta.
Another area Musapeta is passionate about is improving education and treatment within hospital settings. “There is a significant variation in how hospitals are screening for NAS which leads to different treatment options. An NAS education program for hospital staff and standardized screening and treatment protocols would create better communication and dissemination of vital treatment information across the board,” said Musapeta.
The work of the RCORP-NAS team at NCWR is resulting in better clinical, developmental and social outcomes for newborns with NAS, as well as reduced occurrences of NAS due to improved education and awareness of the dangers of opioid use during pregnancy.
For more information about RCORP-NAS, call 1-833-755-4673.
Deanne Vick | February 2021