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HHS Announces New Reports and Grant Program Addressing the Health Needs of Pregnant Women and Children Affected by Substance Use

Evidence-based approaches highlighted in the reports improve the health and well-being of pregnant women and children affected by substance use.

A $10 million SAMHSA grant program will provide residential treatment services for this population.

A new series of reports from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on substance-exposed pregnancies highlights how pregnant and postpartum women who use substances and their children can benefit from evidence-based prevention and treatment strategies. The reports, which were produced by researchers in HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), identify strategies that can reduce the negative health and well-being impacts of substance use (including alcohol use) on families based on a review of existing research and consultation with experts in managing these conditions.

The reports are being released as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) begins accepting applications for the Services Grant Program for Residential Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women. This $10 million grant program will provide pregnant and postpartum women and their children with comprehensive substance use treatment and recovery support services across residential and outpatient settings. In addition, for the first time this year, the program will extend services to fathers, partners, and other family members.

“As part of our Overdose Prevention Strategy, we are committed to providing families affected by substance use with the support they need,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “The reports reaffirm that we need to do more to support the needs of mothers and children affected by substance use – as well as their partners and other family members. Supporting the whole family ensures that no one gets left behind on the path to recovery, which is why this new funding is so critical.”

“Pregnant and postpartum women affected by substance use benefit greatly from services focused on addiction education, treatment planning, and parenting training,” said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of SAMHSA. “Providing holistic services to women and children affected by substance use – and extending those services to family members – not only helps promote the health of the woman and her children but helps set the whole family unit on the path of recovery.”

“Addressing the needs of mothers and children affected by substance use requires compassionate approaches to care, grounded in evidence-based prevention and treatment,” said Rebecca Haffajee, Acting Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. “This research will inform HHS’s work to improve outcomes for families affected by substance use through our Overdose Prevention Strategy.”

Prenatal substance exposure can also have significant consequences for child health and development. Prior research has estimated that Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome affects 6-8 per 1,000 hospital births, with an estimated overall hospitalization cost of $572 million per year, while Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are estimated to affect as many as 11-50 per 1,000 children in the United States, with an estimated total lifetime cost of $2 million per affected individual. ASPE’s reports identify multiple strategies to aid in the prevention, identification, and care of FASD through coordination between critical systems—includinghealth care, education and long-term care.

HHS and the Biden-Harris Administration are committed to improving maternal and child health outcomes, as well as services for families affected by substance use. Already, HHS has taken actions outlined in the ASPE reports. Some of these actions are listed below. 

  • The American Rescue Plan included for the first time an option for states to expand postpartum coverage for 12 months after birth, which could substantially improve access to substance use screening and treatment. Continuous insurance coverage during the prenatal and postpartum periods is critical for engaging women in treatment and recovery. Women affected by substance useare at the highest risk for relapse in the postpartum period.
  • HHS most recently approved extended Medicaid postpartum coverage in Virginia.
  • HHS led the development of a new, standard clinical definition for opioid withdrawal in infants, which will help improve both the diagnosis and care of infants experiencing withdrawal from prenatal substance exposure
  • The HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy emphasizes the importance of integrated care and combating stigma associated with substance use, which may discourage people from seeking care during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Read the new ASPE reports here and here.