For Danielle Rideout, the massive increase in the number of drug-affected babies in Maine – largely blamed on the state’s growing opiate addiction crisis – is not only a disturbing trend, but a reminder of her personal history.

Rideout, 31, was addicted to heroin when she became pregnant with her first child in 2007.

“I rolled out of bed and got high,” said Rideout, originally from Chebeague Island but now a Yarmouth resident. Rideout said she started using marijuana and alcohol as a teenager, and became a heroin addict in her 20s.

Rideout was a panelist Wednesday at a daylong “Substance Abuse and Pregnancy” conference at the Seasons Event and Conference Center in Portland. Officials in Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, alarmed at a spike in drug-affected babies in Maine, hosted the conference.

The number of drug-affected babies in the state has soared from 178 in 2006 to 995 so far this year, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Of pregnant women in substance abuse treatment last year, 83 percent were addicted to heroin, prescription opiates or methadone, DHHS officials said Wednesday.

Rideout said she was able to get into a treatment program when she was pregnant, and her baby was born healthy.

Rideout is now a drug abuse counselor for Tri-County Mental Health Services, and she said more treatment programs are needed. Rideout said she relapsed after her first baby was born, but she has been sober for seven years.

Dr. Christopher Pezzullo, the chief health officer at DHHS, said the goal of the conference was to get people talking and forge connections among treatment, law enforcement, methadone clinics and state offices to work on potential solutions.

“This is going to have to be a collaborative approach,” Pezzullo said.

Pezzullo said the state has already cut the number of opioid prescriptions issued to MaineCare patients by 45 percent – from 350,000 prescriptions in 2012 to 225,000 in 2014 – by imposing stricter prescribing standards on doctors in the MaineCare program.

The state has also reduced the total number of MaineCare patients by tightening eligibility, from 355,000 in 2011 to 287,000 this year.

Also, as the economy has improved and unemployment has decreased, fewer people qualify for MaineCare.

Pezzullo said MaineCare is encouraging its doctors to try alternative treatments to reduce pain, such as physical therapy.

During the three years in which DHHS reduced MaineCare opiate prescriptions, doctors increased opioid prescriptions by 5 percent to patients with private insurance, according to agency statistics.

“We’re hoping private insurers start using the same model we are,” Pezzullo said.

Panelists on Wednesday morning discussed the social barriers to treatment, including the shame that expectant mothers feel.

“The shame and guilt is prevalent,” said Susan Gurney, a nurse practitioner at Discovery House, a Waterville methadone clinic.

“The moms always tell me, ‘My baby didn’t ask for this,’ and I tell them, ‘You didn’t ask to be an addict either.’ ”

Gurney said what many pregnant women addicted to heroin don’t realize is that at a certain point in the pregnancy, it’s better for the baby if the mother takes methadone rather than go through withdrawal, the symptoms of which can cause a miscarriage or premature birth, she said.

“They’re also more likely to relapse if they quit cold,” Gurney said.

A former primary care nurse practitioner before she joined the methadone clinic, Gurney saw a lot of patients who wanted opiates to control pain, she said.

At the time, she didn’t see the connection and wasn’t trained to look for symptoms of addiction.

While awareness among doctors has improved, more needs to be done to train physicians about prescription abuse, she said.

“There’s still pain clinics that are like ‘pill mills,’ ” Gurney said. “As a primary care provider, you are under this tremendous time crunch, and the easy thing to do is just write the prescription.”


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