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ODMHSAS, STAR Clinic Helping Women Deliver Healthy Babies, Achieve Recovery

Monday, April 24, 2023

As part of a comprehensive plan to reduce prenatal substance use exposure, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and OU Health have joined forces to help improve birth outcomes and support family permanency.

ODMHSAS estimates the number of pregnant women in Oklahoma diagnosed with a substance use disorder has increased more than four-fold since 1999. In 2018, 1,040 infants were affected by withdrawal symptoms in state licensed medical facilities, yet 70 percent of birth parents were not connected with treatment after delivery.

The Substance use Treatment And Recovery (STAR) Prenatal Clinic at OU Health, led by Medical Director and Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist Dr. Stephanie Pierce, provides specialized prenatal and post-partum care for pregnant women with substance use disorders. The STAR Prenatal Clinic emphasizes a comprehensive approach to prenatal care that includes supportive psychosocial services, peer support recovery specialists, and partnership with substance use treatment providers.

ODMHSAS and its partnering agencies have gone the distance to make sure those who need the STAR Prenatal Clinic’s services can receive them, said Teresa Stephenson, Senior Director of ODMHSAS’ Adult Substance Use Treatment and Recovery Services division. 

Hope Community Services, Inc., in Oklahoma City, found one such couple living in a tent in a homeless camp. Both were using methamphetamines at the time; their first baby was born in January of 2021 and went into foster care with the child’s grandfather. “Elaina” became pregnant with her second child two months later. 

Over a few months, with regular attention from a HOPE case manager and recovery support specialist, both Elaina and her spouse attempted sobriety and entered residential treatment in October 2021. Elaina began receiving treatment at the STAR Prenatal Clinic at the same time and said the program “changed my life.”

Elaina said of the care she received at the STAR Prenatal Clinic, Dr. Pierce “was respectful and it felt good to not be judged. They understood that I had an addiction and said they could help with any resources I needed to get the proper help,” she said. “They didn’t judge me and only seemed concerned with how they could help me have a healthy baby and be able to keep my baby. I very much enjoyed the treatment I got there.”

On Dec. 20, 2021, Elaina gave birth to a healthy baby boy weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces, and measuring 21 inches long. Both she and her husband are continuing treatment and counseling while their sons live with her father. Both are now employed and awaiting permanent housing so they can be reunified with their sons.

Numbers from the clinic’s first three years in operation (November 2019 to October 2022) show that the STAR Prenatal Clinic served 225 patients, with an average prenatal visit attendance rate of 71%.  164 babies were born to women who received prenatal care through the clinic during that time, and 80% of the delivering patients were engaged in a substance use treatment program at the time of delivery.  Only 20 infants (12%) needed medication after birth to treat neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and 84% of infants were discharged home in custody of their biological parent(s).

Stephenson said ODMHSAS is working with the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, Oklahoma Mothers and Newborns exposed to Opioids (OMNO), and hospitals across the state to ensure more infants affected by or exposed to substances, including those with neonatal abstinence syndrome, receive services.

“The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Service is really emphasizing aligned partnerships to support families affected by substance abuse,” Stephenson said. 

During fiscal year 2019, of the 4,524 children under age 18 who entered out of home care, 1,246 of them were less than one year old. That same year, of the more than 4,000 children with terminated parental rights, parent alcohol or drug abuse was identified as the condition of removal in more than 50 percent of all cases.

Stephenson said ODMHSAS offers trainings and financial support for evidence-based treatments and practices, recovery supports and resources for children and parents in families that have substance use and abuse issues; therapeutic programs for women suffering from trauma, addiction or PTSD; meth-specific treatment models; peer support programs; and family treatment courts. ODMHSAS is increasing gender responsive and family centered services across the continuum of care and these families’ lives.

“We also have initiatives geared to pregnant and post-partum individuals and their other children in our gender-specific residential treatment facilities and outpatient clients,” she said. 

However, since substance abuse can turn into a generational issue, prenatal, infant and early childhood issues related to substance-use exposure also must be addressed.

“The STAR Prenatal Clinic is a great early step on that continuum,” she said. “It already has impacted so many lives and set so many on a path to recovery. More awareness of the effects of prenatal substance abuse and more specialized services such as those provided by the STAR Prenatal Clinic also would be helpful.”

Stephenson said other steps include encouraging hospitals to have standard operating procedures and screening guidelines in place to address newborns and mothers for the potential for substance exposure; if needed, offering appropriate neonatal services/referrals and offering Family Care Plans for the infant, mother, caregiver and family; and identifying and responding to the needs of the infant, preschooler, child, adolescent and their family.

“Obviously, we can’t do this as one agency,” she added. “That’s why it’s essential to have the assistance of our partnering agencies, such as Hope Community Services and OU Health and the OU Health Sciences Center, on these collaborative efforts.”

For more information about the STARS program, visit the STAR Prenatal Clinic page. The STAR Prenatal Clinic may be accessed through self-referral by calling 405-271-5400 and is located at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital at OU Health: 1200 Children’s Hospital Ave, Suite A1, Oklahoma City, OK 73104.

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