Florida’s first lady, Casey DeSantis, traveled Tuesday to Broward County, which has been ravaged by the national opioid epidemic, to announce a $58.8 million boost to the state’s efforts to fight and prevent addiction.
DeSantis chose Memorial Regional Hospital to make the announcement of the funding because of the success of a program there that proactively weens pregnant women off opioids before they give birth.
Since its creation in 2015, about 120 pregnant women have gone through Memorial Regional Hospital’s “Mothers in Recovery” program, which has had a 92% success rate in delivering drug-free babies, according to hospital officials.
“I could not be more proud to be here and see some of the best practices and some of the wonderful things the physicians are doing here to make a difference in the lives of mothers and babies,” said DeSantis, who recently disclosed that she is pregnant. She is married to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The grant funding will create a “neonatal abstinence syndrome statewide prevention coordinator” to enhance resources for pregnant women with opioid addiction. Additional funding will beef up real-time overdose data collection to help county health officials in some of the most affected Florida counties better understand the scope and direction of the epidemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded the grant money to the Florida Department of Health and county health departments in Broward, Duval and Palm Beach counties.
Randy Katz, the medical director for the Memorial Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department, said the program has created wraparound services for opioid-addicted pregnant women.
The hospital’s emergency department staff now includes a psychiatrist and formerly addicted “peer specialists” seven days a week, Katz said, and physicians are trained to interview addicted patients and lean on those resources to get them help.
“We have those conversations with patients: ‘Are you open to treatment? Are you open to going to detox?’” Katz said. “And if they are, we have a peer specialist come and talk to the patient. We have a psychiatrist come and talk to the patient.”
Katz said many of the opioid-addicted patients he sees also have mental health conditions.
“You can’t just treat the substance abuse piece without plugging them into mental health services,” he said.
About 30% to 40% of the opioid-addicted mothers are uninsured or under-insured, Katz estimated. He said the program marks a departure from how emergency departments used to deal with opioid-addicted patients: give them a piece of paper and a phone number to call the next day after they are discharged.
“Typically, they’re going to go out and use again. They’re not going to follow up,” he said.
Under the program, patients are evaluated by a psychiatrist, medically cleared for treatment, started on suboxone — an addiction treatment medication — and then admitted to the hospital for three to four days in a specialized unit. When they are discharged, healthcare professionals follow up with them.
“Once we’ve got them through those first few days, usually these mothers do very well,” Katz said.