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Letters: Series On Opiate Addiction In Pregnant Women

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now time for your letters. Last week, along with reporter Blake Farmer, I brought you a series on opiate addiction in East Tennessee. We introduced you to women whose babies were born drug dependent, and we talked about their struggles fighting addiction. Many people we met were deeply concerned about how easy it is to get prescription drugs, including the drug buprenorphine used in addiction treatment. We called it by the brand name Suboxone. Our story mentioned that lots of places in Tennessee will provide buprenorphine prescriptions for cash.

While we did say that drug is a standard treatment for addiction, a number of you felt we did a disservice by not communicating its proven effectiveness more clearly, and some of you pointed out that we were wrong in describing it as a stepping stone to getting clean. Maia Szalavitz writes that the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and, she says, basically every other agency that has ever considered the question has found that indefinite - that is potentially lifelong - maintenance with methadone or buprenorphine is the standard of care for upload addiction.

She goes on. During a time when overdose is killing more Americans than car accidents, the idea that the best treatment we have - the only one known to reduce mortality - is being dismissed as potentially deadly. And she adds, the idea that people on maintenance are not clean is also offensive and stigmatizing. The data show that people on a stable dose can love, work, drive and do anything else that others can, she writes.

Another listener, James Gardner, told us he was glad to see attention brought to this topic. He wrote to tell us that his wife was addicted to opiates when she was pregnant. She wanted to be clean when she gave birth. We both did, he writes. But he goes on. Withdraw from opiate addiction is absolutely brutal on the body and can easily cause miscarriage or permanently affect the health of the child. Ultimately, he says, his wife received methadone treatment under a doctor's care. The baby was born healthy, and today, he says, my daughter is a vibrant, intelligent 6-year-old girl. Thank you for sharing and for all of the feedback. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.