Nine of every 1,000 babies born in Virginia are born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
In the Mount Rogers Health District, according to 2017 data, the number nearly triples.
Looking to change that, Mount Rogers Community Services Board earlier this month launched Project LINK.
Designed to help mothers and expectant mothers overcome substance abuse, Project LINK gets its name from its role in linking mothers, mothers-to-be and their children to substance abuse services.
“The overall goal is to enhance family relationships, so that families are happier and healthier,” said Melissa Peddy, director of Comprehensive Family Programs for Mount Rogers CSB. “That leads to a stronger community.”
Project LINK works first by providing intensive outpatient treatment and home services to mothers or expecting mothers who are either currently using or at risk of substance abuse.
Babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome experience myriad withdrawal symptoms. They shake and tremble, cry out in pain, are irritable, have difficulty sleeping, feeding and even breathing at times, Peddy said.
Effects of neonatal drug exposure can also lead to developmental delays, some of which go unnoticed until toddlerhood. Children exposed to drugs while in the womb are also at a higher risk of addiction later in life.
Mothers who use drugs while pregnant are also more likely to experience post-partum depression and have difficulty bonding with their newborns.
“When drugs are taken, it just changes the way our brains kind of function, especially with methamphetamines it can be a bit longer,” Peddy said.
The program aims to help treat women both before and after birth, to ensure that the individual’s needs are met. When outpatient treatment isn’t quite enough, Peddy said Project LINK can help arrange treatment in residential programs.
In addition to services for mothers, Project LINK also provides services for the children of mothers with substance abuse disorders, as well as parent/child interaction therapies.
The case management part of treatment includes parenting programs that help reduce parental stress, which, by extension, also reduces the risk of child abuse, Peddy said.
“This helps reduce the stress of parenting. If you’re going through recovery and you’re already stressed, having parenting responsibilities can increase stress levels.”
The parenting program, called Nurturing Parenting, teaches mothers how to effectively provide structure and discipline in their children’s lives. A trauma based curriculum provided through Project LINK also helps individuals learn to deal with past trauma.
“A lot of people that struggle with substance abuse have a history of childhood trauma,” Peddy pointed out. Through Project LINK services, individuals will then learn to identify their triggers and the thought patterns that lead to their drug or alcohol use.
“In developing that awareness, they can make a plan to avoid those triggers or cope with those triggers when the triggers are unavoidable.”
Peer-to-peer mentoring will also help keep participants encouraged and on track in their recovery and incentive programs are designed to not only reward successes, but also to provide necessities like diapers, wipes and clothing for the infants.
Launched July 1, Project LINK already has six participants and is currently accepting referrals. Participants can be referred by Mount Rogers case managers as well as hospitals, primary care doctors, mental health providers, substance counselors, the department of social services and the department of health. In addition, women who feel they need Project LINK services are also welcome to reach out to Mount Rogers.
“There’s not a wrong door with this,” Peddy said. “Anyway mom finds her way to these services is going to be accepted.”
Child Care and transportation assistance are also available to help remove barriers for women who are seeking treatment.
Project Link is made possible through funding by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health, Department of Social Services and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. Mount Rogers is one of only 10 Project LINK providers in Virginia.
Project LINK services are available to women and their children in Wythe, Bland, Smyth, Carroll and Grayson counties as well as the City of Galax.