NC Doctor Starts Initiative to Help Opioid-Dependent Moms

The current opioid crisis affects more than just abusers. Last year, 55 babies born at New Hanover Regional Medical Center tested drug-positive. North Carolina has several counties and cities that rank high on the opioid crisis list. A 2016 study revealed Wilmington has the highest rate of opioid abuse in the nation. Three other North Carolina cities rank in the top 25; Hickory, fifth, Jacksonville, 12th, and Fayetteville, 18th. A local Wilmington doctor is trying to start an initiative to help expecting mothers fight their addiction and save their babies from addiction, withdrawal, and other complications.

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Dr. William Johnstone's non-profit Tides Inc. aims to help mothers-to-be who are hooked on opioids. He and his team prefer to use the term “opioid use disorder” for their patients, since there is a strong negative stereotype and stigma attached to those who are addicted to the drug. The change in language is one small step that can encourage change for those dependent. Dr. Johnstone serves at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, and works directly with the patients.

“Healthy mothers having healthy babies”

Mothers who join with Tides Inc. will potentially receive three to five days of counseling, medically assisted therapy, prenatal care with nurse practitioners and social workers, group meetings during pregnancy, and classes on parenting skills. The current goal is to build a strong network of services for long-term success. Organizers have connected with program directors, health care providers, lay people, government officials, legal experts and nonprofits to develop plans and strategies. 

Dr. Johnstone spoke with Wilmington’s StarNews about the program.

“A participant who completes Tides programing would be able to keep their child while being constantly monitored in a supervised safe living community,” Johnstone told the paper. Their motto? “Healthy mothers having healthy babies.”

While the program is still in its beginning stages, it’s a solid step in helping mothers and babies work through the devastating effects of addiction. The program is still so new that it doesn’t even have a website yet to provide updates and information. If you’re looking to donate to a worthy cause this holiday season, take a hint from the nativity scenes and offer up some Christmas cash to the mothers and babies in NC that need it. Dr. Johnstone has (bravely) given his personal email for those looking for more info on donating or joining, and can be reached at: william.johnstone@nhrmc.org.

Ways to Help

As North Carolinians strive to battle this crisis, nonprofits and community-driven movements are making headway. Project Lazarus in Wilkes offers a model for other NC communities based on the twin premises that drug overdose deaths are preventable and that all communities are ultimately responsible for their own health. They offer information and advice on their site.

Earlier this year, Project Lazarus teamed up with the makers of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma L.P. The partnership aims to keep painkillers off the streets for resale. Project Lazarus and Safe Kids North Carolina, a unit in the N.C. Department of Insurance, launched the North Carolina Disposal Initiative, a statewide medicine disposal program. The hope is to remove pills from illegal distribution by providing prescription drop boxes for the proper disposal of excess pills.

Another fighter in this worthy cause? Phoenix Rising of Winston-Salem Inc., which helps those struggling with addiction receive treatment. The nonprofit is focused on raising money to fund a drug-treatment court in Forsyth County. Donations go a long way in helping keep these projects afloat. A donation made to any of these community-led initiatives can guarantee your stocking won’t be filled with coal come Christmas morning.

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