Number of mothers using opioids while pregnant is rising in Tennessee

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WRKN) – The number of mothers using opioids while pregnant is rising in Tennessee.

Tennessee has twice the number of opioid-addicted pregnant women than the national average.

News 2 wanted to know what would fix the problem: treatment or prosecution.

Sally Board is an addict and used opioids during her pregnancy with her daughter.

“You go to your appointments and you’re like, ‘Am I going to hear the heartbeat this time?’” Board told News 2. “But you just literally can’t stop.”

Board’s daughter was born five weeks premature and had several health problems. She was jaundice and had an internal hemangioma.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

She had to have surgery at five months because it was blocking her airway.

But her daughter fully recovered, and when she turned 3 years old, Board got help through Addiction Campuses of Tennessee.

So how does Tennessee solve the problem?

In 2014, Tennessee became the first state to prosecute women who use drugs during their pregnancy. It was called the Fetal Assault Law.

Data shows that drug-dependent births continued to rise, and in 2016, the law expired.

Dr. Stephen Patrick with Vanderbilt says the law didn’t work because women avoid treatment under the threat of criminal prosecution.

“If we criminalize, we drive people away from care,” Dr. Patrick told News 2. “We’ve heard anecdotes of people delivering outside the hospital, even in cars. That’s not what we want. We want what’s best for both mom and baby and that’s getting in treatment, staying in treatment through pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby.”

Stephen Patrick (Photo: WKRN)
Stephen Patrick (Photo: WKRN)

Dr. Patrick also blames over-prescribing for Tennessee’s opioid problem.

The Volunteer State has the second-highest number of opioid prescriptions in the United States and consumes more opioids than most of the world.

Board believes treatment is the only way a mother-to-be can get help for her addiction.

“There’s nothing in this world like the unconditional love of your child,” she said. “You want to wholeheartedly be able to feel that and not feel guilty, you need to get help.”

Dr. Patrick believes there also has to be more treatment options for pregnant women. There aren’t many facilities in Tennessee that will treat pregnant women because the work is risky.

Dr. Patrick says we need more in order help moms-to-be.