Speaker’s message: End drug, alcohol use even before pregnancy

By Ed Runyan



A speaker provided facts about the dangers to babies of fetal exposure to drugs and alcohol that most of the 150 professionals attending had never heard before.

“Any use of any substance during any part of pregnancy will have a negative effect on a child,” said Tim Schaffner, executive director of Trumbull County Children Services, summarizing the message Dr. Ira J. Chasnoff gave. Children Services was the organizer of the training event.

Schaffner said gynecologists sometimes tell expectant parents that a small amount of wine won’t hurt their baby, but Dr. Chasnoff gave scientific evidence that such advice is wrong. Chasnoff is professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago and author of the book “The Mystery of Risk.”

He also showed that the time during the pregnancy when the substance was used will determine what effect there will be on the child. These things were new to him and other professionals in attendance who work with newborns, children and families, Schaffner said.

Chasnoff also showed that the effects on a child exposed to subtances in the womb can be passed on genetically to their offspring, Schaffner said.

One of the attendees, Jennifer Morgenstern, program administrator for Youngstown Treatment Services on Belmont Avenue in Youngstown, said one of the striking things about the presentation was the effect on the baby in the earliest weeks after conception.

“A lot of women don’t think about stopping drinking before they know they are pregnant, but the danger is already done,” she said.

The Mayo Clinic says problems caused by fetal-alcohol syndrome vary from child to child, but defects are not reversible. “There is no amount of alcohol that’s known to be safe to consume during pregnancy,” the Mayo Clinic website says.

It lists a series of mental and physical effects that can result – from intellectual disability to delayed development, hyperactivity, distinctive facial features, small head circumference and brain size, poor social skills and trouble adapting to change.

The federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act signed into law in 2016 to address the opioid epidemic requires agencies, including Trumbull County Children Services, to create a plan of safe care for children exposed to substance abuse either before birth or up to age 1, Schaffner said.

Schaffner said the formation of his agency’s recovery team, consisting of caseworkers and recovery coaches, who have experienced substance abuse themselves, was one of the ways his agency is addressing the problem.

Schaffner said 56 percent of the agency’s cases involve a child impacted by substance abuse, a number that has remained steady the past few years.

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