Knoxville doctor supports opiate detox during pregnancy

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Dr. Craig Towers with UT Medical Center has been conducting research on opiate detoxification for five years and he says his findings prove treating pregnant mothers is much more effective than treating babies after they’re born.

Rhiannon Meadows’ son is three weeks old and she’s very grateful he’s healthy, clean and full of energy – not having to deal with neonatal abstinence syndrome. This was made possible after she became a patient under Dr. Towers with UT Medical Center. Meadows was one of 300 patients treated by Dr. Towers for opiate addiction while pregnant.

“I’ve done really well ever since then, it’s been a lot better than I thought it would be,” said Meadows.Related story: Tennessee fetal assault bill fails in House subcommittee

Dr. Towers says for almost 40 years the standard has been to not detox pregnant women from opiates for fear it would harm the baby or cause problems during the pregnancy, but he says that’s not true, saying none of the babies were harmed during his research.

“The process of just dealing with babies that have NAS is like treating it when it’s too late,” said Dr. Towers.

Meadows agrees. “I think it’s better to treat the mother before the baby is born so they don’t come into the world and have to detox and go through all of that for what you’ve done.”

Meadows recommends this program for any woman who’s pregnant and has an opiate addiction. She says even after the pregnancy it’s helped get her into a program at the Helen Ross McNabb center.

“If we can get these mothers into a program that produces sobriety and long-term abstinence for themselves, we’ll deliver a child that won’t go through NAS and also probably improve the home for the child and after delivery,” said Dr. Towers.

Meadows took that step for her son’s future.

“Makes me feel accomplished and it makes me feel like a good mother for doing the right thing for him,” she said.

Dr. Towers says he would like for his program to grow across the country. He says his next step is to provide a pilot study for doctors over the next 12 to 18 months showing them how the program works. Pregnant mothers can be treated for opiate addiction in both inpatient and outpatient programs. Dr. Towers says all mothers must go through long-term behavior health training after having the baby.

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