New center aids addicts and babies But costs threaten Baltimore program

February 02, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance

An article about the Center for Addiction and Pregnancy in last Sunday's editions of The Sun said that a center client, Marizol Velez, would do "whatever it took" to get cocaine and that she lived in crack houses in Baltimore. Ms. Velez says she got the drug regularly from a friend and lived in crack houses in Anne Arundel County but not the city.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Marizol Velez had been on the streets of Baltimore since last March, living in crack houses and doing whatever it took to stay high.

March also was the last time she saw her 4-year-old daughter. The cocaine had crowded the little girl out of her life, and she left the child with her sister's family.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

By October of last year, Marizol, 27, was still using cocaine. Only now she was pregnant again.

"I knew I was pregnant, and I continued using," she says. "I was getting high every day. I wasn't getting the proper rest, I wasn't eating right. I was living in a crack house."

But "I was tired of that life," she says. Frightened, she began looking for a way out.

Her family refused to take her in because she was still on drugs. She tried to get into drug treatment programs, "but no place would take me because I was pregnant."

*

One place finally did take Marizol Velez in from the street.

On Christmas Eve she entered the Francis Scott Key Medical Center's Center for Addiction and Pregnancy, an 8-month-old effort to extend a comprehensive array of medical, psychological and educational help to pregnant addicts, their newborns and their families.

Funded, for now, by a $250,000 grant from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, CAP's goal is to save unborn babies from the worst and most costly effects of their mothers' addictions, and to help the mothers quit drugs and establish healthy families.

And it seems to be working.

Of the 48 babies born to women in the CAP program from July through December, only 5 -- about 10 percent -- had to be admitted to the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. Their stays in the unit averaged just 6.4 days, and cost $8,640 each.

Nationally, 25 percent of all babies born to drug-addicted women end up in intensive care and stay there an average of 21 days each, at an average cost of nearly $25,000.

Based on those numbers, and Key's rate structure, CAP officials estimate their program has saved $297,000 in immediate health-care costs since July.

The long-term savings in health care, educational and social costs are impossible to calculate.

"Babies born to addicted mothers are susceptible to many problems, so we're very pleased with these initial results," said CAP director Dr. George Huggins.

@4 "It's very heartening news," Dr. Huggins added."

*

"I miss my daughter," Marizol says now, tears welling up in her eyes. "I call my sister, and she tells me that my daughter's healthy. But she won't let me speak to her."

Marizol's pain fills the room, a bare, overheated place on an old floor at Key Medical Center. It has been brightened a bit with a slathering of pink paint and furnished with a half-dozen folding chairs.

Five other women have joined her there to support each other and talk about their experiences. Someone passes her a tissue.

Marizol has been "clean" for more than a month now, she says. And she has found hope.

"I'm going to start with this program and keep coming back," she said. "First I'm going to get drug-free. Then I'm going to get my own place. Then I want my daughter back. And after that I'm going to get a job."

*

Dr. Lauren Jansson, a developmental pediatrician at CAP, said private physicians and most drug treatment centers want little to do with difficult, pregnant addicts.

"Wherever they go for care, it's very punitive. People don't want to care for them . . . or they don't have the facilities to give them what they need," she said.

Addicted mothers have serious medical, nutritional and psychological problems. Their unborn babies are exposed to drugs, seldom get prenatal care and typically are born too early.

"They have respiratory difficulties because their lungs aren't mature," Dr. Jansson said. "They are predisposed to bleeding in the brain, and that can lead to developmental difficulties."

Without special care, many of these difficulties won't be addressed until the children reach school, where they will need costly special education services.

"This center was created to care for them," Dr. Jansson said. "We can see them as they grow up and we can recognize developmental problems early."

Some women walk in off the street after hearing about CAP. Others are ordered there by the courts, referred by shelters or other drug treatment centers. Not everyone stays.

From its opening last April through Dec. 31, CAP admitted 145 women. Of those, 60 dropped out. Not bad, considering the clientele, CAP officials say.

Of those who stay, "some live here, some don't," Dr. Jansson said. "It depends on their addiction, homeless status and relapse problems. Lots have stayed here for months until they deliver, and for months after."

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