Each year, thousands upon thousands of chemically-dependent mothers give birth to premature, developmentally disabled and, in some cases, stillborn children. Often, these preventable tragedies have more to do with prenatal care than the chemicals ravaging their mothers' systems.
The Francis Scott Key Medical Center is taking tentative steps toward a solution with an innovative program that marries drug treatment with obstetric care. The Center for Addiction and Pregnancy will provide prenatal and psychiatric help under the same roof, giving pregnant women the necessary tools to improve the odds for their offspring -- and themselves.
The need for such a program is well documented. A recent General Accounting Office report entitled, "Drug Exposed Infants: A Generation at Risk," paints a depressing picture of legions of babies exposed to the likes of crack cocaine and other insidious drugs. The numbers are frightening: In 1986, the number of at-risk infants stood at just over 9,000. By 1988, the last year for which information was available, their ranks had swelled to 13,765.
These unfortunate children, many of whom never escape a behavioral legacy over which they have no control, are subject to mental retardation, physical abnormalities, learning disabilities and, tragically, sudden infant death syndrome.
One problem is that drug treatment programs historically have been crafted from a male perspective. Many treatment centers, put off by the prospect of lawsuits arising from possible complications, will not accept pregnant women; others only until the end of the second trimester.
And the trouble doesn't end there. Many programs require lengthy stays, yet offer no daycare, an essential service for drug or alcohol dependant women with children. Worse, many mothers desperately trying to kick the habit find their offspring remanded to foster care.
The Francis Scott Key program goes a long way in fielding these hurdles. Participants will be shuttled to and from treatment by vans, eliminating the difficult multi-bus trip across town,
particularly for women with children in tow. Supervised daycare is available while mothers receive medical attention, counseling and other services.
Increasingly, chemically dependent women are facing prosecution for endangering the lives of their unborn children. Any real, meaningful answer to this growing problem lies in preventive, rather than punitive action. Francis Scott Key's program represents a realistic, long overdue approach to drug treatment framed by the very special needs of pregnant women.