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Program to combat opioid use among pregnant women an asset

Allegheny Health Network will soon offer a new program in Butler County that combats the opioid epidemic and focuses on care for one of our most vulnerable populations — pregnant women.

The Perinatal Hope Program is designed to help pregnant women and postpartum mothers with opioid use disorders, and will work as a “one-stop shop” to provide easier access to health care services for them.

The program will open a site aligned with AHN’s Northern Regional OB/GYN in Cranberry Township.

This is a great — and much needed — program. The health network said that the rate of hospitalizations with opioid use disorders per 100,000 residents in 2019 was 293.2 for Pennsylvania and 296.9 for Butler County.

And the rate of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome — a set of complications caused by a newborn’s drug withdrawal due to a mother’s substance abuse disorder — is two times higher in Pennsylvania than the national average.

Butler County has long been at the center of the opioid epidemic. While drug-related deaths were on the decline in 2018 and 2019, overdose deaths were on the rise by 16% last summer in Pennsylvania, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have likely exacerbated substance abuse as many people spent more time isolated and services aimed at helping people kick drug habits were less available.

One of the best aspects of AHN’s new program is that it will gather together different services, so that patients will be able to access medication assisted therapy for opioid use disorder, care coordination and education on relevant programs and counseling services during routine OB/GYN exams. The program also extends these services through postpartum.

“When you have a substance or opioid use disorder, it can be a lot of appointments,” said Krista Flaherty, manager of the AHN Perinatal Hope Program. “Combining the appointments makes it less stressful for moms, and easier to get all the care they need in one place.”

This is a great idea for a program, and one that will help to both serve the needs of pregnant women or those in postpartum who are struggling and to combat the opioid epidemic in the county.

We think it will be an asset for the county.