Film sheds light on methadone treatment and pregnancy

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Island mother Courtney McGee is one of several women sharing her powerful story of overcoming opiate addiction while pregnant. 

In the new documentary-style film Mothers & Methadone, McGee explains that she sought help for her addiction through Prince Edward Island’s methadone treatment program. Although her son was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome as a result of the methadone treatment – a fairly common diagnosis among newborns of mothers undergoing treatment – he was healthy and symptom free following weeks of treatment in hospital.

“There are people who are going to judge you and bring you down, but there is way more people out there that care about you getting healthy,” McGee said. “The care is there. It is readily available, and there are people who will help you out along the way.”

Health PEI, with funding from Health Canada’s Drug Treatment Funding Program, commissioned filmmaker Jenna MacMillan to create the film to bring greater awareness about opiate addiction and pregnancy. The 10-minute short features Island mothers who sought care through the province’s methadone program, as well as several clinicians involved in delivering the program.

The film will be screened publically for the first time on Saturday, July 15 during PEI Fest – Prince Edward Island’s Film, Food and Ideas Festival.

“Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience, and what you learn early on is that it’s not just about you any more,” said pediatrician Dr. Kathy Bigsby, who was also interviewed in the film. “When you’re struggling with an addiction it can be difficult to make good decisions and, sometimes, the addiction comes before anything else. When you’re becoming a parent, you have to be able to put your child first and the methadone treatment program makes that possible.”

Methadone treatment has been demonstrated to significantly improve pregnancy outcomes for opiate-dependent women. It is safe for the baby and helps the mother by:

• stabilizing drug use and lifestyle;

• facilitating attendance for pregnancy care;

• reducing the risk of blood borne viral infections including Hepatitis C and HIV; and

• lowering the risk of crime associated with drug use.

Some babies born to mothers on methadone will go through neonatal abstinence syndrome after birth.  This usually begins a few days after birth, but symptoms could arise as late as two to four weeks after birth and may last several weeks or months. Infants going through withdrawal must often be closely watched in hospital and can be cranky, not eat or sleep well, or have a fever, vomiting, trembling, and occasionally experience seizures.

“Through this video we want to reduce the stigma associated with methadone treatment and show how it is working for many Islanders like Courtney, who I want to thank for being willing to share her experience,” said Health and Wellness Minister Robert Henderson. “Our health care providers across the province are working to support individuals who are struggling with addictions; we need to continue this support for parents and wider community, for the sake of this and future generations of Islanders to come.”

For more information about addiction services on Prince Edward Island, including the methadone treatment program, visit Addiction Services (healthpei.ca/addictions) or call toll-free 1-888-299-8399.

Media contact:
Amanda Hamel
Senior Communications Officer
Health PEI
(902) 368-6135

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