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OPIOID EPIDEMIC: Social stigma is putting addicted pregnant women, their babies at risk

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Social stigma and shame are putting pregnant women and their unborn babies at risk.

Pregnant women who are addicted to opioids sometimes fear getting help, but that could be dangerous for them and their babies.

“The person I was is not the person I am now,” said Ashley.

Ashley has been clean for more than a year, but the mother of three young children has dealt with the shame and judgment that come with being a recovering addict and a mom.

It's why she didn't want us to show her face or reveal her full name.

“It changes you,” said Ashley. “Being an addict is difficult. It is the life that we chose. We chose to use, but then trying to get out is harder. Trying to be normal and function is hard -- really hard.”

When Ashley found out she was pregnant last year, she was already using medication and therapy to treat her addiction.

She continued throughout her pregnancy and even now that her son Julian is born.

Research shows that medications like methadone and Buprenorphine can help women like Ashley get and stay clean, while also reducing complications for the baby.

“We are not here to judge, we are here to help,” said Dr. Claudie Jimenez.

Jimenez works for CleanSlate Drug Treatment Center in Elkhart County. It’s an outpatient addiction treatment center that provides medication-assisted treatment.

They treat pregnant women, including Ashley, and it’s saving lives.

Women who don't seek treatment or try to quit cold turkey -- without the help of medications -- are at a greater risk for relapse and miscarriage.

Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concludes that medication is the recommended therapy and is preferable to withdrawal.

“It is evidence-based treatment, so there [are] studies that have been done and it supports the use of medicated assisted treatment,” said Jimenez.

Even with medication-assisted treatment, newborns are still at risk for some side effects like withdrawal symptoms and low birth weight.

But Jimenez says when a woman is seeking treatment, those side effects are treatable and survivable.

Julian had slight tremors but he is okay now; so is Ashley.

They’re now both on their way to a good life.

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“I’ve never done as good with life as I have done here,” said Ashley. “I did a complete 360. I am very different then the addict you seen a year ago.”

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