May 17, 2021
Hope and Recovery are Possible for Pregnant Women Facing Addiction

There is no more stigmatized person in the world than a pregnant woman living with addiction, says Kate Hinely. For over a year now, Kate has been running The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Substance Abuse Treatment Education Prevention Program, often referred to as the STEPP clinic.

“Even within the medical community there’s a stigma around addicted pregnant women. Whether it’s a condescending comment from a doctor or a look of disapproval from a pharmacist as a patient picks up her suboxone, there’s a lot of judgment and shame put upon these women,” said Kate.

The medical professionals working at the Wexner Medical Center and its STEPP clinic recognize the great deal of courage it takes to face addiction and are working hard to fight the stigma these women face. The STEPP clinic provides high-risk obstetric care to any pregnant woman seeking hope and recovery. Women enrolled in the program also have access to medication assisted treatment, 1-on-1 counseling, psychiatrists, group therapy, parenting classes, transportation, social workers and more.

Anywhere between 50-60 women are enrolled in the program at a time – a four-fold increase over the past few years. While Hinely says the clinic experienced an increase in patients with the onset of the opioid epidemic, much of the program’s growth is due to postpartum retention. Mothers enrolled in STEPP now have the opportunity to stay in the program until their baby is one.

Ashley Mintel can attest to the importance of postpartum support, which is the period when mothers are most likely to relapse. Ashley’s continued sobriety has enabled her to keep custody of her 14-month-old son Jeremiah and she is now back in the lives of her other two sons.

“That right there is enough for me to just not give up,” said Ashley. “Having them back – I never thought that would happen.” Although Ashley has graduated from the STEPP program she remains involved as a peer supporter for other expectant moms.

Hinely says the biggest fear her patients have is their baby being taken away. The STEPP clinic works directly with Child Protective Services to help moms navigate the custody situation. Together they develop a plan of care to ensure the baby will have adequate shelter, a safe place to sleep and other necessities.

The second biggest obstacle these women face is the fear of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), says Kate. Kate is upfront and honest with her patients. Their babies will have NAS whether they are taking suboxone or not, but the good news is it’s very treatable. The STEPP clinic even arranges a meeting between the expectant mother and her neonatologist, NICU manager and pediatrician to answer any questions she may have about NAS.

The pandemic has brought about even more challenges for expectant mothers. “Many of our patients are single moms, so their life was hectic to begin with. They relied on school for free lunches for their children and other community support, and when that was taken away their world was turned upside down,” said Kate.

“It’s important to remember that mental illness and addiction go together. You must treat all facets of the patient in order to help them achieve recovery. You can’t just slap a band-aid on and expect things to be OK. That’s why we have such a large focus on supporting the mental and emotional well-being of our patients,” added Kate.

Upwards of 90% of mothers enrolled in STEPP complete the program. Many former patients often come back to help out, too. One former patient helps coordinate celebrations with the expectant mothers on the holidays and another serves as a speaker to raise awareness of SIDS and safe sleep habits. Kate is proud of the strides her patients have made and enjoys having them come back to mentor other women in the program.

If you or someone you know is pregnant and facing addiction, the STEPP clinic can help. They will accept patients regardless of how far along a woman is in her pregnancy and regardless of her insurance status. STEPP can also help expectant mothers to get a free pack-and-play, car seat and car seat training, strollers, WIC Nutrition Program enrollment and more. No referral is necessary, pregnant women can call (614) 293-4118 to schedule an appointment today.

en English