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Letter: Every woman deserves care during pregnancy

Minority women often have the greatest need for support and resources during pregnancy as they lack access to health care. Resorting to measures like drug abuse to cope with the pain and other stressors of pregnancy is common. Opioid abuse during pregnancy leads to adverse birth outcomes like pre-term births, heart defects and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in babies. NAS is a constellation of complex problems a baby experiences when withdrawing from exposure to narcotics, the treatment of which costs the nation millions of dollars. Additionally, the lifestyle issues associated with illicit drug use put the pregnant woman at risk of engaging in activities, such as prostitution, theft, and violence, to support herself or her addiction.

The number of pregnant women abusing opioids nationwide has gone up 475 percent since 2000. The rates of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome have tripled over the past decade. This is unacceptable. American Indians are among the minority groups that are more likely to develop addictions mainly because they are at increased risk of psychological problems due to cultural disruption.

Every woman deserves care during pregnancy. The onus lies upon us, the citizens of the state to provide care for underserved American Indian women who live in dire circumstances in the Bemidji area, where the problem is grave. We cannot afford to be complacent. This issue needs to be resolved urgently before it grows beyond control and the safety of everyone is threatened. We need to help these women seek treatment and educate them about the harms that opioid abuse can do to them and their children. We must prevent them from going down the road of no return and incapacitating their children in the process.

The treatment programs available to American Indian women are neither woman-centered nor culturally specific. Moreover, these women are not protected from discrimination in publicly funded programs. I urge those in positions of authority to design programs that are aimed at actively detecting and providing treatment to the pregnant American Indian women of rural Minnesota, with the headquarters being the district of Bemidji. Every effort should be made to win the trust and cooperation of this group. Every woman that bears a child is the responsibility of the nation and we owe them care. Can we really afford to be citizens of the state that turn a blind eye to the suffering of these women and not help them out?

Sanya Virani

Health services research intern

Patient and Professional Health Services