GRACE program saves pregnant women struggling with addiction

Published: Dec. 18, 2019 at 3:54 PM EST
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Opioid addiction is an epidemic, gripping people of all backgrounds and ages. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a baby is now born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 15 minutes.

But Women's Hospital in Baton Rouge is among the first in the nation to try a new method of changing these statistics.

The moment Courtney Saylor realized she was pregnant, her life changed. At the time, she was addicted to heroin, which put her health and her baby at risk.

"It had become such a way of life that I couldn't even get out of bed or do my daily activities of life without it in my system," Saylor said.

That's when she enrolled herself in the GRACE program at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge. Many hospitals provide medication-based treatment; the GRACE program provides participants an extra layer of accountability by assigning them a nurse and a social worker and connecting them with outside resources.

"We're finally understanding that addiction is a disease of the brain, and being able to relate that to actual disease makes it easier for us to understand how to treat," case manager Kiona Hayes said.

Now, one year after launch, Woman's Hospital says it's seeing results. While untreated substance use in pregnancy can lead to preterm birth and low birthweight, 93% of infants in the GRACE program were born at term, and they were born almost three-quarters of a pound heavier than babies of mothers with opioid use disorder who didn't participate.

"I mean, that's why we do this," Hayes said.

Saylor stuck to the program without relapse and welcomed a perfectly healthy daughter born on the Fourth of July.

"She's a little firecracker," Saylor said.

Her daughter gave her a reason for recovery. She says the GRACE program showed her the way.

The GRACE program is one of a few of its kind in the U.S. Program organizers said they modeled it after a similar program in Cincinnati and are working to become a model for other hospitals to treat pregnant women with opioid use disorder.




REPORT: MB #4670

BACKGROUND: Prenatal use of some drugs, including opioids, may cause a withdrawal syndrome in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Babies with NAS are at greater risk of seizures, respiratory problems, feeding difficulties, low birth weight, and even death. Research has established the value of evidence-based treatments for pregnant women (and their babies), including medications. For example, although no medications have been FDA-approved to treat opioid dependence in pregnant women, methadone maintenance combined with prenatal care and a comprehensive drug treatment program can improve many of the detrimental outcomes associated with untreated heroin abuse. However, newborns exposed to methadone during pregnancy still require treatment for withdrawal symptoms. (Source:

LAWS: Throughout America, different states have different laws that address prenatal substance abuse. Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Rhode Island's healthcare providers are required to test for and report prenatal drug exposure. Indiana health care providers are only required to test. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin's health care providers are required to report prenatal drug exposure. Reporting and testing can be evidence used in child welfare proceedings. Some states consider prenatal substance abuse as part of their child welfare laws. Therefore, prenatal drug exposure can provide grounds for terminating parental rights because of child abuse or neglect. (Source:

GRACE PROGRAM: Kiona Hayes, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, a GRACE Program Case Manager at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge talked about the GRACE program, "Instead of looking down or talking bad or not trying to understand the patients that are dealing with this disorder, but helping them seek the help that they need and realizing that GRACE is here for that support. We want to do this to help others. We don't want anyone to feel that they can't call us. And we want to be support for the community as well, not just for the patients. We want everyone to have the education and resources that they need. So just understanding what addiction is in general, I think, will change a lot of things." (Source: Kiona Hayes, MSN, APRN, FNP-C)