MEETING: Health care professionals discuss ways to address addiction, other issues impacting women.

By Mia Summerson      

Nov 10, 2016

With recent studies revealing that Niagara County has New York’s highest rate of newborns who experience drug-related withdrawal symptoms, local medical and mental health professionals are working to do something about it.

On Thursday at Harry F. Abate Elementary School in Niagara Falls, a panel discussion organized by Millennium Collaborative Care brought the community together to talk about how to address mental health and substance abuse problems in women.

Karen Hall of the P2 Collaborative of Western New York presented data from information collected between 2012 and 2014 that indicates that Niagara County has a newborn drug-related diagnosis rate of 341.7. She also pointed out that Niagara Falls has higher rates of drug-related emergency room visits and hospitalization for pregnant women than other areas of the state, as well as high incidents of adolescent pregnancy.

“These are the red flags,” she said. “These are the things that are making us think that we need to be doing something here.”

Hall also went over stats from a recent Niagara Falls High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey. It showed that Niagara Falls High School students in 2015 had higher rates of marijuana use, suicide attempts and students who say they became sexually active before the age of 13 than the state as a whole did in 2013.

Marlon Thornton, of the Northpointe Council, explained how women have different reactions to drugs and must be treated according to their biology. He explained that hormone patterns in women are different for those of men. As a result, he said women tend to require less time and smaller amounts of drugs to become addicted. He also noted that hormonal factors kick into overdrive when a woman becomes pregnant.

“(Mental health and substance abuse issues) have a huge stigma, but that becomes one hundred-fold after you become pregnant,” said Dr. Meaghan Aalto, an OB/GYN at Niagara Fall Memorial Medical Center who regularly works with pregnant women dealing with addiction. “We want to help, there is a plan in place no matter what you’re dealing with during your pregnancy.”

Alicia Coulter, of Horizon Health Services, said it’s important to be preventative rather than reactive. When she works with women, she said she looks at a wide range of variables in their lives to try to see what issues might arise. She reminded the crowd that mental health problems frequently coincide with substance abuse.

Another speaker on the panel, Cheryl Blacklock, was a troubled teen. She experimented with drugs, ran with the wrong crowd and suffered from relentless depression and bi-polar disorder. Today, at age 58, she still experiences struggles with her mental health, but she’s come a long way.

“I have been a executive director for the Mental Health Association of Niagara for the past 10 years,” she said. I’ve been in a supervisory position for more 25 years. So you can succeed, you can recover, you can get through it.”



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