Anchorage birth center reports rise in pregnant women suffering from opioid addiction

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The owner of an Anchorage birth center says she’s noticed an alarming rise in the number of pregnant women addicted to hard drugs. So she’s setting up a nonprofit to do something about it.

“I work in health services for out-of-hospital birth, and when I started almost 10 years ago it was hard to find a woman who was pregnant that was using hard drugs – it’s not hard to find [them] these days,” said Shauna Howell, president of One Family Community Birth Center.

According to Alaska Chief Medical Officer Jay Butler, the state has seen a five-fold increase in the rate of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), over the last 16 to 17 years. NAS refers to a group of health problems in newborns, which are caused by exposure to opioids during pregnancy.

“This mirrors what we’ve observed more broadly in Alaska, as well as in most parts of the United States,” Butler said.

Howell says she thinks the lack of inpatient treatment facilities in Alaska is a major obstacle for opioid addicts seeking to recover. She’s in the process of starting a nonprofit called Pay it Forward, which aims to help addicts pay for inpatient treatment.

“What Pay it Forward recovery is allowing people to do is apply for the funds to be able to get into an inpatient treatment program, even if they have to go out-of-state,” she explained. “Then when they get back, they’re able to pay back the money. And that money is used to pay for the next addict that’s still suffering.”

Howell says she’s already assembled a board for the organization, but they have yet to schedule their first meeting. They’re hoping to begin fundraising in the near future.

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