In the past, metro-east expectant mothers with opioid addictions seeking treatment would have to travel across the state. With a new grant, health care providers in Belleville are helping to change that.
The program pulls together St. Louis and metro-east resources to provide long-term treatment for expectant mothers in the metro-east who are addicted to opioids. Since the program began in March, one woman has fully enrolled for services at the Queen of Peace Center in St. Louis.
Jim Wallis, corporate director of business development at Chestnut Health Systems in Belleville, said the grant is especially important because it crosses the Missouri/Illinois state divide to help treat women.
"What it does is puts together resources that are a safety net for clients in need, whether they’re Illinois or Missouri residents," Wallis said. "Drugs and alcohol affect both sides of the river."
There are no centers in the metro-east that offer long-term housing for women seeking treatment for addictions. However, the program, which uses federal money, will help women in Illinois access services across the river so they no longer have to travel to Chicago for treatment.
"A pregnant female with an opioid addiction can go 10 to 15 minutes across the river and then seamlessly come back into the community," he said. "That bi-state collaboration is a beautiful example of what we can do if we think outside the box."
Brent Cummins, director of adult treatment at Chestnut, said the collaboration will provide expectant mothers a place to stay and receive treatment for their addiction before and after their baby is born.
"A lot of these individuals are addicted to opioids and it's unsafe for them to get off that opioid, especially for the baby," Cummins said.
Through Queen of Peace, up to 18 women at a time can stay at the center and be linked to various clinics, doctors and medication as well as therapy, child care education and mental health treatment. Once the baby is born, the treatment continues.
"It’s a residential program that provides aftercare. They can potentially stay three or four extra months or at least until the baby is born. Once the baby is born, they can come back to us and get the needed outpatient treatment they need," Cummins said.
The after-birth care includes available family counseling for mothers and fathers and looks to "promote a healthy family."
Cummins said these kind of programs are essential for combating the opioid epidemic and the bi-state nature of the grant "is the first of it's kind, a pilot for other states to try."
"All too often, there are so many barriers that prevent people from getting the type of help they need in treatment. It’s estimated about 20 million people have a substance use disorder in the United States. Only 10 percent of people get help or seek help," he said. "It's much needed in our county to better help address this situation."
Opioids contributed to nearly 1,200 overdose deaths in Illinois in 2016, according to data from the Illinois Department of Health.
In 2017, 46 people died from overdoses in St. Clair County and 87 overdose deaths were recorded in Madison County, according to data collected by Karen Tilashalski, a prevention specialist at Chestnut.
Harelyn Williams, 49, said she received treatment at Chestnut 10 years ago when she was pregnant with her youngest son. She was using drugs and finally sought help through Chestnut's recovery program. She said the main difference, however, was she lived independently while Queen of Peace allows women to be supervised and receive constant support.
"It just gives them closer monitoring to know that they have to be healthy themselves to take care of children," William said. "A lot of times, women don't have the support; you have a lot of single families. Other women understand what you're going through."
Williams said mothers especially need support when they are struggling to care for themselves and their children while fighting an addiction.
"I wanted to get clean for the kids but you also have to want it for yourself. Because if you're not together, you can't take care of someone else," she said.
Williams now works at Chestnut as a recovery assistant. She said she's excited to show other women "that you can never have a new beginning, but you can have a new ending."
"I'm excited to work with the women and show them, don't beat yourself up and don't let your past determine what's going to happen in the future," she said. "Just because you went out there and made bad decisions doesn't mean you can't make better choices now."
Wallis said he is excited for future programs to follow the program's precedent of thinking about the opioid epidemic regionally instead of state-to-state. He pointed out what happens in St. Louis directly impacts the metro-east, such as when overdose deaths in St. Clair and Madison County rise dramatically when those in St. Charles do.
"My focus with the opioid epidemic is, let’s think beyond the state line and think how can we address this together. Drug users and dealers have no problem using those bridges," he said. "We’re actually talking back and forth and that’s critical to serve a population that goes across the bridge every day. This (grant) is really cutting edge."