Pregnant and addicted: The fight for care and compassion in the opioid epidemic
Author: Juliette Dryer
Published: 11:42 PM EDT June 2, 2017
HEALTH 2 Articles

Pregnant and addicted: The fight for care and compassion in the opioid epidemic

Chapter 1

Pregnant and addicted

Three days after U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited UF Health Jacksonville to discuss babies born addicted to opioids, three pregnant women getting treatment for opioid addiction are sharing their stories with First Coast News.

First Coast News has chosen not to reveal the identities of two of the women. The third said she didn’t mind being identified.

“My drug use got so bad to where I couldn’t go 30-45 minutes without using and putting something into my body,” the first woman said. Her addiction started with painkillers and spiraled into IV heroin, which turned out to be fentanyl.

The woman couldn't control her addiction even after she found out she was pregnant.

“Me being pregnant didn’t change anything,” she said. “I continued to keep using - if anything I started using more.”

The woman sat alongside her roommate and friend. The two are both receiving treatment at Gateway in Jacksonville and both are due to give birth in August.

This is the roommate's second attempt at getting clean. She started abusing painkillers after a car crash when she was pregnant with her first child.

“I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to stop. And it didn’t matter that I was pregnant with her,” the woman said.

The baby girl was born addicted to opioids. The woman had to watch as her infant went through withdrawal.

“It was the hardest thing I ever went through,” she said. “In knowing that the reason she was suffering was because I put her there.”

But that wasn’t the end. The woman returned to drugs when she lost custody of her baby girl, that time using fentanyl-based heroin.

She returned to Gateway when she found out she was pregnant with her second baby.

When asked whether she worried about returning to drugs, the woman said no. She said it will always be a battle but she’s in a better place now than ever before.

“I’m happy. I can laugh. And I don’t ever want to go back to that,” she said.

Adriana Herrick, 21, shared her story in hopes of inspiring other women in her situation.

She’s currently receiving treatment through Labor of Love, an entity of Deerfield Beach-based Gracious Care Recovery Solutions. Labor of Love helps pregnant women get clean and prepares them for life after the birth.

Stock photo

“I’ve really changed since four months ago,” Herrick, who lives at the facility and now has a job, said.

Now seven months pregnant, Herrick was introduced to prescription painkillers by an older boyfriend when she was in her teens. She sought treatment when she found out she was pregnant.

“I did not know what to do, I didn’t have any goals in my life, any direction,” Herrick said.

All three women credit their treatment facilities with giving them hope for both themselves and their babies. They urge other pregnant women struggling with addiction to seek help.

“Don’t be scared to get judged or be scared of what people are gonna say because honestly, it’s better to ask for help and seek help than to not have help at all,” Herrick said.

For information on Gateway, click here or call 1-877-389-9966. For information on Gracious Care and Labor of Love, click here or call 855-854-7223.

Chapter 2


A local doctor told First Coast News he is one of the few physicians in Northeast Florida to offer both obstetrics care and opioid addiction treatment for pregnant addicts.

“I have women shooting up heroin in my parking lot,” said Dr. E. William McGrath Jr, an OB-GYN.

McGrath said the number of opioid-addicted women he treats is on the rise.

“Five-to-ten years ago maybe one patient a year. Now I have on my books 16 active patients,” McGrath said. He added his patients come from as far north as Brunswick, Georgia and as far south as Daytona Beach, Florida.

For pregnant women, McGrath prescribes Subutex, an opioid-agonist that helps maintain levels without inducing a high. He warned quitting opioids cold turkey could cause a miscarriage in early pregnancy and stillbirth later in the pregnancy.

To provide this service, McGrath had to take special courses and get approval from government agencies. It’s even more work to get Medicaid to cover Subutex, McGrath said.

“Every ‘i’ has to be dotted every ‘t’ has to be crossed and the patients have to be completely compliant," McGrath said. "And often it takes several attempts.”

He noted 90-95 percent of his opioid-addicted patients are on Medicaid. They typically require weekly visits and McGrath said Medicaid only covers 14.

“For the first 14 visits the office is minimally compensated and then for 26 visits or more after that, it’s all free care,” McGrath said.

It’s a financial hit for him, but he said many women who are unable to meet the tough requirements attempt to pay out-of-pocket. If they can’t, they try to find a substitute on the streets.

“There are a lot of barriers for these patients to overcome and they get frustrated, then they often will slip back to their opiate ways,” he said.

While the heavy workload, risk, and money might deter others, McGrath continues his practice to protect the next generation.

“We’re more successful than not and we do it for the mothers but we especially do it for the babies,” he said.