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Columbus Mom Battles Prescription Drug Abuse

Babies born addicted to prescription drugs is on the rise — in some places around Ohio the numbers have more than doubled. One Columbus mother fought a difficult battle against prescription drugs abuse. Steph, a 22-year-old woman, is recovering from prescription drug addiction. WOSU has agreed to only use her first name. She began drinking and experimenting with drugs in high school. Like many people with an opiate addiction, Steph left the hospital with a prescription for Percocets following a car accident. And she continued to take them even after she healed. "It wasn't really about withdrawal, it was about wanting the high," she said. Steph stopped taking the pills for a while until she started her freshman year at Ohio State University. "They were readily available. Then I became addicted to them at that point, physically," Steph remembered. Steph did not quit prescription drugs even after she became pregnant. She had been in another accident — so the pills were plentiful. "I kind of went through the denial, like, well it's really, really early. It's not going to affect my child. So I continued taking them up until I went to the doctor's appointment. He pulled me off of them. And so I kind of just had to stop taking them. Just because I, you know, I didn't want it to affect him. But it was extremely hard. I mean my withdrawal; I was in the hospital for two weeks," she said. Steph is one of thousands of women across Ohio afflicted by prescription drug abuse. Hundreds of babies are being treated for drug withdrawal in hospitals all over the state. The problem is not connected to any one region, age group or socio-economic class. More than 700 babies in Cincinnati and Columbus hospitals were treated during two years for prescription drug withdrawal. No one knew opiate withdrawal was the real reason Steph could not keep down food or water — not the doctors, not her family, not her boyfriend. Steph told no one. Jenny O'Keefe is CEO of Amethyst, a community treatment center for addicted women. "Bad enough to be a woman and be an addict because you immediately get stigmatized with being a bad wife, a bad mother, a loose woman and we don't get help. So add on top of this a mother, how could you do that to your baby? It's even worse," O'Keefe said. Dr. Jonathan Wispe is a neo-natologist at Columbus Children's Hospital. He said while some of the problem associated with addiction is medical, he said it's much more of a social issue. "We can treat the babies and we've gotten pretty good at it unfortunately. But there's not a lot of support in the community for taking care of these families and taking care of the moms and that's really what we need," Wispe said. There are programs for pregnant women who are hooked on drugs. While it's often tough to get a spot in a treatment facility, many of them make pregnant women a priority. Natoyia Harris is clinical supervisor for Maryhaven's women's center. She said the women are linked to prenatal care and live in a structured environment that supports their recovery. But even then, Harris said it's a difficult road. "Not only are they struggling with the addiction, as far as trying to stay clean for themselves, but also taking on the responsibility of how can I take care of myself while I'm pregnant. And the emotional rollercoaster that a lot of women go through when they're pregnant," Harris noted. A program called Stable Cradle helps pregnant women who are already in treatment. Run by Maryhaven and funded by Ohio State, lay people serve as sponsors who encourage the women to stay clean during pregnancy and help them prepare for their baby's birth. Coordinator Jane Amer said they also advocate for the women once the babies arrive. "If they need us to stand behind them and support them and say you know, they've been doing everything they need to be doing,' we advocate for them to keep their babies," Amer said. Twenty-four of the 27 Stable Cradle babies in 2009 were born clear of drugs. Steph did not receive any help for her addiction during pregnancy. Her baby, she said, was born drug-free and healthy. But she resumed her addiction after she gave birth. She jumped from a window while high on drugs. Later, she overdosed on a mixture of opiates and Xanax. Following those two incidents she entered Maryhaven. She's clean now, and her baby lives with her. "That's definitely the biggest blessing of being sober, is having that connection and love and intimate bond with my son," Steph said. This fall, Steph will return to Ohio State to study fashion merchandising — and to the familiar streets where she bought many of her prescription drugs. "The biggest thing I have to focus on is getting a support group," Steph said. "So that's what I'm going to have to do is pump my recovery first because if I don't have my recovery, I'm not going to have my life."