September 30, 2010

Legal aspects of prenatal substance exposure explored

Legal aspects of prenatal substance exposure explored

Karen D'Apolito, Ph.D., A.P.R.N.

Karen D'Apolito, Ph.D., A.P.R.N.

Community groups, providers and social workers participated in an interdisciplinary seminar at Vanderbilt University School of Law to provide up-to-date research about prenatal substance exposure, information about maternal use as a public health problem and evidence-based responses to address drug and alcohol use during pregnancy.

Emma Ketteringham, J.D., director of Legal Advocacy for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, who moderated the program, started by saying: “There is misinformation about methadone maintenance treatment that permeates our system — probation officers, parole officers, police officers, judges, lawyers, child welfare workers — are operating under misconceptions about what methadone is and what it means to be on methadone.”

Karen D'Apolito, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., director of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program, began the lineup of speakers and panelists.

“We need to recognize that addiction is a chronic illness, and treatment should not be punishment,” said D'Apolito.

She dispelled many myths associated with methadone treatment, such as the incorrect belief that methadone has negative implications for the baby over the long-term.

According to D'Apolito, methadone treatment is “the best thing for mom and baby,” and actually prevents withdrawal in the fetus, which can ultimately lead to death.

Once born, the babies can be treated pharmacologically without long-term effects.

She urged members of the audiences and all frontline health care workers to learn more about methadone treatment as a standard practice for opiate addiction in pregnant women.

She said this group is crucial to referring pregnant women for comprehensive treatment.

“Treating these women as criminals drives them away from the health care system,” D'Apolito said.

“They are afraid of punishment from the authorities and that their children will be taken away from them. We need to work together to make sure they get the health care and support they need to have healthy pregnancies.”

The program was rounded out with presentations about legal issues in Tennessee and a panel of patients who have participated in methadone treatment.

The seminar was sponsored by VUSN, Vanderbilt University School of Law, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Middle Tennessee Methadone Treatment Center and Behavioral Health Group.