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Opioids & Motherhood: A Sadly Familiar Addiction Story


Six percent of babies born in New Hampshire have been exposed to opioids.

And the actual number may be higher at this point.

“We are one of the hardest hit areas,” says Dr. Alison Holmes, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth.

The alarming trend has prompted a renewed push to support mothers and newborns. One boost comes from a $3 million anonymous grant via the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

Prenatal care and recovery services are critical, health and recovery advocates say.


Listen to The Exchange: Addiction & Motherhood: The Impact of the Opioid Crisis on New Mothers


Michele Merritt is senior vice president of New Futures, a non-profit organization on health care policy. She says the number of babies experiencing withdrawal has tripled in New Hampshire in the last 10 years. In 2015, she says 227 infants experienced withdrawal, when those numbers were in the 20s in the early 2000s. “It is a striking rise in the number of infants born in this state who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms,” she says.

Michelle Spurling is a new mother who is in recovery from opioid addiction. She previously was a resident at Hope on Haven Hill during her pregnancy.

“My addiction started with a little, green pill. It was Oxy 80.”

She’s referring to Oxycontin, 80 mg. She says it heroin was the closest thing to that high. Her addiction led to the loss of her home and her marriage, and she landed in jail for drug-related crimes. After release, she became pregnant, and her daughter became her biggest motivation to be clean.

She thanks places like Hope on Haven Hill, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary in December.

Hope on Haven Hill is a substance use treatment organization for pregnant, homeless, and new mothers in recovery. The house has eight beds and a regular waiting list.


"Addiction and Motherhood" show highlights include:


  • Courtney Gray Tanner, executive director of Hope on Haven Hill, says some mothers fear their babies will be taken away if they disclose their addiction or seek treatment for addiction. “I think it’s absolutely a fear that mothers have,” she says.
  • Merritt says that fear is not unfounded in New Hampshire. She says the state’s child protection act was recently modified and it includes a provision that parental substance misuse creates a “rebuttal presumption” of child abuse, that might trigger an investigation by the state Division of Children, Youth & Families.
  • Spurling adds that she received a visit from DCYF when she was pregnant, because she was on a maintenance recovery program. She says DCYF was supportive.
  • Dr. Holmes says that is a concern - that expecting mothers or new mothers will not disclose an addiction out of fear their newborn, or an existing child in their home, will be taken away. It's part of the bigger, continuing dialogue and awareness, she says.
  • Merritt says Medicaid expansion, under the Affordable Care Act, is a critical piece of the treatment and recovery puzzle. Courtney Gray Tanner says all but a few women receiving services are enrolled in Medicaid expansion.
Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.

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