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Substance Abuse and Pregnancy Addressed

O.C.'s treatment approach is based on old drug data, a grand jury report says. New studies and facilities are urged, plus bigger care staffs.

June 07, 2005|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's approach to dealing with pregnant women whose substance abuse harms the physical and mental well-being of their babies needs to be overhauled, according to a county grand jury report released Monday.

The reason: It is based on 13-year-old data regarding the prevalence of the problem. "There are two problems with using the old data," the report states.

"The demographics of the county have changed, and ... the drugs of choice have changed. Therefore, the applicability of the ... data is questionable."

The grand jury's report makes note of numerous studies showing that children exposed in-utero to illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco are at increased risk for a host of ailments including low birth weight, learning or developmental disabilities, mental retardation, poor reasoning or judgment skills and sudden infant death syndrome.

The report makes several recommendations, among them that the county's Health Care Agency perform a comprehensive prenatal substance-abuse study to supplant the old one; that the healthcare and social services agencies increase their prenatal staffs; and that a steering committee be organized to provide direction to all agencies, departments and contract firms dealing with substance abuse by pregnant women.

The report also urges county officials to consider providing healthcare facilities for substance-abusing pregnant women in South County, who it says are underserved, and to redesign agency Internet sites to make them more accessible to those in need.

"A mother who exposes her developing child to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs risks impairment that can result in a lifetime of public assistance," the report warns.

"Fortunately, a pregnant woman has a natural and compelling concern for her child. This motivating concern offers an excellent opportunity to provide services that could improve the outcome of her child."

The grand jury's investigation was undertaken, according to the 16-page report, after a preliminary examination revealed "unmet needs" for pregnant women who abuse drugs and alcohol.

Subsequent findings indicated that the only data on the subject come from a 1992 study indicating that 7.5% of the county's pregnant women tested positive for alcohol and/or drugs, and about 5.9% admitted smoking tobacco while pregnant.

The root of Orange County's problem, the report concluded, is that -- judged by the quality of the data available -- "the current incidence of in-utero substance-exposed children is unknown."

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