A Research Fellow at the University of South Australia has won a Fulbright Postdoctoral scholarship to examine treatment options for women who are addicted to heroin and other opiates during pregnancy.
Dr Andrea Gordon, who currently leads the Mothers, Babies and Families: Health Research Group at UniSA, will attend John Hopkins University and the Centre for Addiction and Pregnancy in Baltimore to learn more about multidisciplinary approaches to treatment and care.
Having previously worked with the Drug and Alcohol Service in South Australia, Dr Gordon’s research interests concern opioid maintenance substitution therapies, including the use of methadone and buprenorphine for pregnant women dependent on opioids.
It is an issue of growing concern, as dependence on illicit opioids, such as heroin and prescription analgesics, during pregnancy, has risen worldwide, with US figures showing almost a five-fold increase since 2000.
“In Adelaide there are approximately 120 substance using pregnant women and their exposed infants who receive care at local hospitals annually. The care that these women and infants require is extremely service intensive,” says Dr Gordon.
“In the US and Europe, most pregnant substance using women and their infants receive care during and after pregnancy through multidisciplinary comprehensive treatment facilities, where their pregnancy and substance use issues are managed in the same onsite treatment setting.
“Despite the clear need for these services, currently there are no multidisciplinary treatment facilities in Australia such as those established internationally.
“This issue has a huge impact on health care services. It’s not just health, but housing, transport and family services trying to do the best they can. Without an integrated support network or consistent care and treatment available during pregnancy and post-birth, women can easily fall through the system.
“One of the purposes of my scholarship will be to observe how quality research directly translates into evidence based clinical practice in the area of substance use and pregnancy.”
Dr Gordon acknowledges the potentially controversial subject matter of her research and advocates for a non-judgmental approach, but admits earlier in her career she could understand how individuals may think: “Why are you continuing to use drugs when you are pregnant, aren’t you scared of harming you baby?”.
"I have since met women who have worked so hard during their pregnancy to ensure they are happy, healthy and stabilized in preparation for the birth of their child, only for the baby to start to withdraw following delivery and the words “look at what I have done to my baby”.
“Sadly this often results in a loss of insight and a downhill spiral as a result of guilt and shame.
“This is one of the reasons I am so passionate about this research area, and understanding better management strategies for these women and their infants to improve outcomes.
“I am delighted that the Fulbright scholarship will enable me to undertake further work in this area.”
Dr Gordon is just one of 26 Australians to be recognised as a Fulbright Scholar in 2013.
Contact: Andrea Gordon office 8302 1764
Media contact: Will Venn office 8302 0965 email Will.Venn@unisa.edu.au