Nurses Standing Against Arresting Mothers with Addiction
Despite what stigma teaches people, it is possible to be a good person and be addicted to drugs or alcohol. It is possible to be a good parent while fighting to overcome a substance use disorder (SUD), and it is vital that mothers feel safe when seeking help. Sadly, the threat of arrest and prosecution frightens most pregnant and nursing mothers away from getting the quality healthcare and treatment that they deserve.
Past research has shown that addicted women face their deadliest year after giving birth. Now, healthcare professionals who spend every day on the front lines with patients, including mothers with addiction, are calling for a change.
American Academy of Nursing Releases Policy Brief
The American Academy of Nursing (AAN) out of Washington, D.C. is calling for an end to the punitive approach to mothers with addiction. In the organization’s journal, Nursing Outlook, it provides their new policy brief urging authorities to cease placing criminal and civil charges against pregnant and parenting women for drug use. Instead, they are calling for a public health response that embraces the women who need help the most.
AAN consists of over 2,700 members. In their recent policy brief, they note that taking legal action against women with SUD can often result in arrest and jail time. Therefore, pregnant and nursing mothers may be so afraid that they don’t seek essential health services. In other words, if mothers with addiction are too afraid of being punished, they may not receive critical medical care. As a result, both mothers and their children are being put at risk.
Additionally, a number of states that consider drug use during pregnancy as grounds for child abuse protection, including:
In the statement, the AAN says the threat of arrest and sentencing has nurtured a “culture of fear and barriers” for pregnant and nursing women. Instead of pushing a narrative that punishes and shames mothers with addiction, this alliance of nurses believes compassion and support are crucial.
Healthcare in the Opioid Crisis
Initially, the policy brief talks about the opioid epidemic, and the impact it has on pregnant women. The Academy President Karen Cox, PhD, RN, FACHE, FAAN states:
Through this timely brief, the Academy is helping to shape the conversation around providing care to pregnant and parenting women and reducing the stigma of SUDs in the age of the opioid epidemic. One of the Academy’s policy priorities is to advance health equity and champion wellness. To do this, providers must incorporate multi-disciplinary, culturally- and trauma-responsive models of care.”
As the AAN press release noted,
“Early entry into maternity care plays a vital role in long-term health and social outcomes.”
This is a concept that is widely supported by scientific research. Studies show that preschool-aged children, between 3 and 5 years old, with supportive mothers display significant increases in areas of the brain related to:
- Emotional regulation
To facilitate that crucial level of interaction, the AAN has put forth numerous recommendations at the federal, state, and provider level.
Federal Level Recommendations
- Funding for the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Increased dissemination of SAMHSA’s Clinical Guidance for Treating Pregnant and Parenting Women with Opioid Use Disorders
- Advancement of ongoing training and technical assistance to ensure cultural competence and sensitivity in SUD treatment
- The collection of comprehensive data on maternal deaths due to overdose by the Centers for Disease Control
State Level Recommendations
- Increased funding and the integration of services related to community-based treatment for women, their children, and families affected by substance use
Provider Level Recommendations
- Suggests strategies for nursing leadership “to safeguard accurate and comprehensive clinical assessment and provider practice consistent with a therapeutic health justice approach.”
Overall, the AAN calls for a shift in public health policy toward supporting mothers. Their recommendations are centered on the foundation of recovery and treatment for mothers with addiction. Authors of the press release conclude:
“The Academy is helping to shape the conversation around providing care to pregnant and parenting women and reducing the stigma of SUDs in the age of the opioid epidemic.”
All women deserve a chance at quality healthcare. That includes women who struggle with opioid addiction. Sadly, many women start off using prescription medications and become dependent, which leads them to buying those medications on the street. Eventually, this dependence can lead to illicit opioids, and a full-blown addiction.
Middle-age women are actually the demographic that consumes the most opioids in America. Recent data also suggests that women between 40-59 years old have the highest death rate from opioids among women. Needless to say, we need to be providing better resources for women to get the help they need. That means helping pregnant women and mothers with addiction to feel safe getting care and asking for help.