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Missouri and Illinois health centers team up to help Metro East mothers with opioid addiction

Granite City resident Jennifer Kostoff and her daughter. Kostoff was addicted to heroin when she was pregnant and was able to give birth to a healthy baby with help from the SSM Wish Center.
Chestnut Health Systems

Several St. Louis health centers will begin working next month to provide long-term residential treatment for expectant mothers in the Metro East who are addicted to opioids.

Many pregnant women who need treatment for substance abuse rely on Medicaid, a federal- and state-funded health insurance program for people who are low-income, disabled or elderly. But women in the Metro East aren't eligible to be treated at facilities in St. Louis that only accept Missouri Medicaid.

There are also no centers in Metro East that offer long-term housing for women seeking treatment for addictions. But in February, a new federally funded program will help women in Illinois access such services at the Queen of Peace Center in St. Louis. That means they will no longer have to travel to Chicago for treatment.

Providing a place for mothers and their children during months of treatment is crucial to recovery, said Lara Pennington, CEO of the Queen of Peace Center. 

"They're women. They bring children with them. The majority of them have not had access to prenatal care," Pennington said. "The majority of them are addicted to opioids, so they need intensive medical support and supervision."

The collaboration between the Queen of Peace Center, Chestnut Health Systems, the SSM Health Wish Center, St. Mary's Hospital and Barnes-Jewish Hospital is funded by a $524,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

The grant will help hire a behavioral health specialist at the SSM Wish Center to refer women in Missouri and Illinois to the Queen of Peace Center, where mothers may reside for several months after giving birth. It will also fund a doula program, in which parenting educators provide emotional and physical support to mothers before, during and after birth. 

Mothers and children from Illinois who complete their stay will continue to receive maternity care from Chestnut Health Systems.

Granite City resident Jennifer Kostoff, 36, credits her recovery to the help she received from Chestnut Health Systems.

"I didn't want to go through a cycle of what I've seen a lot of people do," Kostoff said. "They don't get help. They have a baby that's addicted to drugs and they lose that child. They have to fight to get that baby back, if ever. I didn't want to have to go through that but I didn't know how to get the help that I needed." 

While the Belleville-based center cannot accommodate pregnant women, Chestnut Health Systems did refer Kostoff to the SSM Wish Center. Kostoff was able to recover and give birth to a healthy baby girl.  

State funding exists in both Illinois and Missouri to help pregnant women with substance abuse issues, but the demand for such services is greater than what health centers can provide, Pennington said. The programs also need to be competent enough, she said, to protect the health of mothers and children. 

"Treating specifically women with substance abuse disorders is very risky," Pennington said. "The intensive integration of behavioral and primary healthcare is critical to the success of the woman and the baby and then you add the layer of medication-assisted treatment. Women who are not pregnant could withstand withdrawal, but the toll it will take on a pregnant woman and her child is significant." 

St. Mary's Hospital, SSM Wish Center and Barnes-Jewish Hospital are also building a facility focused on providing Subutex (buprenorphrine), a medication that addicted mothers need to have healthy pregnancies.

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.