Cultivating relationships may be one of the key solutions in addressing substance abuse in pregnant women, explained Ira Chasnoff, president of Children's Research Triangle in Chicago.
Chasnoff, who is a researcher in child development and effects of maternal substance abuse, spoke to health professionals Thursday at the University of Charleston for this year's Perinatal Summit.
The West Virginia Perinatal Partnership and Charleston Area Medical Center are hosting the summit, a two-day event, seeking to bring together local and national experts to address the state's perinatal health programs.
"They are doing a great job," Chasnoff said of West Virginia's programs addressing substance abuse in pregnant women.
One of Chasnoff's recommendations is for the state to adopt an all-encompassing guide for addressing the problem. That way, he said, the state will have a "universal way to address the issue."
Stefan Maxwell, chairman of the Perinatal Partnership and a neonatologist at Women and Children's Hospital, said effects of substance abuse during pregnancy depends on the type of substance used.
"With methadone and narcotics, there can be withdrawal symptoms. With nicotine and alcohol, there can be brain damage, and cocaine and meth may cause developmental defects and growth restrictions in the womb," Maxwell said.
Maxwell said the state has many programs but they are still in the "infancy stages."
"We invited (Chasnoff) to come to our annual meeting so we can learn from other states," Maxwell said, later adding, "There were subtle things brought up based on research to incorporate in screening programs, behavioral modification methods of counseling, which can provide better success rates."
In Thursday's pre-conference workshop, Chasnoff talked about medical, social and neurobehavioral effects of substance use during pregnancy along with ways to address each problem.
Chasnoff said research has found only 6 percent of women referred will get drug treatment. He said in his experience, he has found that brief interventions are just as effective in improving program outcomes.
These brief interventions, he explained, are focused on motivational interviewing and engaging women in conversations about substance abuse and being drug free.
Chasnoff said it's important to talk to women about the specific substance they are using but not to approach it in an accusatory manner; otherwise, they are more likely to leave prenatal care.
As an example, he said instead of health professionals using language like, "you know what you're doing to your baby?" to instead use a "bridging comment," such as, "thanks for telling me about your drug abuse. As a health professional, I am concerned." He said after this, professionals then may talk about effects substances could have on the baby.
He acknowledged that some may argue everything turned out fine even though their mothers drank during pregnancy or they didn't experience any problems after drinking in previous pregnancies. In these cases, Chasnoff said it's important to reiterate the risks.
Chasnoff said professionals should consider a few important factors when developing programs. These include negative heritage, emotional instability, psychological function and a lack of social support.
Negative heritage can deal with negative experiences people may experience as children. Chasnoff explained this goes hand-in-hand with the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which determined certain experiences can put a person at higher risk of certain illnesses later in life.