“He smiled when mommy kissed him, he’s never done that before!” exclaimed new mom Riannon Meadows. “Just being able to be his mother is the best thing ever.”
Meadows just had her baby two weeks ago. A healthy little boy. But his first few weeks of life could have been much different if she hadn’t stopped abusing prescription pain pills four months into her pregnancy.
“He would’ve detoxed and I wouldn’t have been able to keep him. It would start his life off in the direction I didn’t want it to,” Meadows, 29 of Maryville, said.
The baby was not born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), the disorder infants develop if their mothers abuse opiates during pregnancy.
It was Meadows’ doctor, Dr. Craig Towers, who recommended she go to a residential detox facility-- a practice that is not standard across the country.
"It’s based on a couple of case reports from the 1970s and that information has just been propagated to the point where it’s fact," said Dr. Towers.
"The concern was that it would increase the chance the baby would die. Or be still birth. Or would be damaged from going through the detox. The child would go through detox as the mother goes through detox. The literature doesn’t prove that and our own data doesn’t prove that," he said.
Meadows said her doctors in Virginia had recommended she go to a methadone clinic or a subutex clinic, where she could try to kick her drug habit with what’s called replacement therapy.
“I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “I wanted off of it.”
Dr. Towers, a professor and practicing OBGYN who specializes in high risk pregnancies, did not like the outcome of methadone clinics.
“It isn't that the protocol is bad, it's just that we keep the mother addicted and the child will end up going through Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome,” he said.
He tried his own study where pregnant women were instead weaned off the drug. It’s a method that in just a few years has saved more than 300 babies from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in the study alone. Towers said he’s treated many more addicted women successfully.
“I have the occasional patient who wishes she was not pregnant and doesn't seem to care, but the overwhelming majority of them are interested in getting off,” said Towers. “They don't want to harm their child.”
“Detox is not harmful. That's the first thing we have to get out in the literature so the nation can change its practice in that regard,” he said. “The next step is working on programs that can maintain them after they've been detoxed so they don't relapse.”
Towers said there is value in methadone and suboxone clinics, but he wants women to know there is another option. He travels the country and shares his study with other doctors.
Meadows, who is now staying at the Helen Ross McNabb program, “Great Starts,” said it was not easy to detox. It was on her fifth time of attempting to detox that she finally was able to stay sober. She's been clean for five months now. She wants people to know it wasn't easy.
"The first time I ever tried it it was the most horrible thing I’ve ever went through. It’s like having the flu five times over," she siad.
But she also said it was worth it to have her baby born drug free.
“I feel better than I have in a really long time,” she said.
There is very little research available on the long term effects opiate abuse during pregnancy has on children.