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The Edit, Episode #1: A Conversation About New Treatment Options for Opioid-Addicted Moms

On the latest episode of Pacific Standard's podcast about how our stories are made, staff writer Francie Diep discusses her experiences covering the opioid epidemic and a promising new treatment program at the University of Kentucky.

In the first episode of The Edit, host Varun Nayar sits down with Pacific Standard staff writer Francie Diep to discuss an innovative new program at the University of Kentucky called PATHways that helps opioid addicted mothers and mothers-to-be. In this conversation, Diep recounts how she discovered PATHways, her experience covering the opioid epidemic, and the relationship she cultivated with the main subject of the story, an opioid addicted mom named Christy.

Below, an excerpt of the story, the full version of which is available here:

When Christy discovered last year that she was pregnant, she panicked. She had finished a detox program for an opioid addiction just a few months before, but was still smoking pot and taking prescription painkillers from time to time. She knew she needed more help if she were to deliver a healthy baby. "I needed a safety net," she says. "I didn't want to use when I was pregnant."

Christy wasn't just being cautious; she was speaking from experience. Eight years ago, she was 21 and deeply addicted to opioids, abusing prescription pills such as Lortabs and Xanaxes even though she was attending a methadone clinic, which was supposed to help her with her addiction. It was during that time that she gave birth to her first daughter, whom she named Shelby, and whom she lost custody of to her own mother, Shelby's grandmother. "An addiction is stronger than a mother's love for her children," Christy says.

Losing custody of her daughter didn't change much for Christy, at least not right away. Despite the popular rhetoric about drug users "hitting rock bottom" and then turning their lives around, that's not the reality for many. "I didn't think about her," Christy admits. "I just thought about myself."

Over the next decade, however, Christy slowly started making progress. She had years-long periods of recovery, even becoming an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor to other women. Though she relapsed when her stepfather died, one year later she went back into a clinic for treatment. When she found out last year that she was pregnant again, she looked for help right away. "I just didn't want it to happen again like with my oldest daughter," she says. The gynecologist Christy went to referred her to PATHways, an innovative, new program housed in a small University of Kentucky HealthCare clinic in Lexington, Kentucky. PATHways provides both prenatal and addiction care to mothers with substance use disorders. Women start with PATHways when they're pregnant; they stay in the program for at least two years after they give birth.

Read more of Diep's work on opioids and drug treatment hereTo receive new episodes as soon as they go live you can subscribe to The Edit on iTunes and Soundcloud. Please leave a review or a comment; it helps us learn more about what our listeners want to hear on the show.