Task force discusses prescription drug abuse among mothers and infants

Published July 24, 2012

TAMPA — After a car accident in 2007, Carrie Reiter, 29, was left with terrible neck pain.

Her doctor wrote her a prescription for pain medication, but the pain never went away. She tried different medications at different dosages, but nothing worked.

Reiter developed an addiction.

"I couldn't care for my kids anymore, and I couldn't care for myself anymore," said Reiter, a registered nurse and mother of three.

She finished a rehab stint with Daytona Beach-based Project WARM (Women Assisting Recovering Mothers) seven months ago. During her stay, she was allowed to keep her baby with her, and she has since regained custody of her other two children.

Reiter shared her story Monday afternoon during the second meeting of the state task force on prescription drug abuse and newborns.

"I love myself again," she said.

Led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, the 15-member task force was created this year to address the growing problem of drug abuse among expectant mothers and how to take care of babies suffering from neonatal withdrawal syndrome.

One of the topics was how to expand and advertise programs such as Project WARM that help mothers such as Reiter recover from addiction and take care of their children.

The task force convened at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital and discussed everything from how to treat women with drug addiction during a pregnancy to designing a logo and a slogan for the group.

About 80 percent of the cases in the Tampa Bay area that involve removing children from their homes are related to substance abuse, said David Wilkins, secretary of the state Department of Children and Families. That's also true for about 60 percent of the cases statewide.

"We really need to be thinking big because the cost of what's happening here in the state is enormous," Wilkins told the committee.

Members agreed that the issue is more complex than it seems. They said they need not only to campaign for drug abuse awareness and prevention, but also to determine how to best treat mothers and their babies.

"If we can prevent this, it's going to save so much money and so much heartache," Bondi said.