MN LEND Project Responds to Opioid Crisis

August 7, 2020

What can you do if your baby, or a loved one's baby, has neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)? How can a toddler's development be affected by NAS? Where can Minnesotans find support?

As part of their 2019-20 MNLEND fellowship experience, Bridget Winchester (pictured) and Catie Mapa are answering those questions, and more, through online content expected to be launched next month from the MNLEND website. The fellows created the content with support from ICI's Jennifer Hall-Lande and Rebecca Dosch Brown, LEND fellow Whitney Terrill, and the Institute's communications team.

Educational information about what is currently known about NAS as it relates to child development is discussed, along with tips for family members and others caring for children exposed to drugs in utero as well as in the home environment. Examples include maintaining skin-to-skin contact for infants and, for preschool children, early enrichment services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.

The site also links to videos and other online resources for both families and professionals working with families affected by NAS. Users can take a pre- and post-quiz before and after viewing the information, and a certificate of completion is offered at the end of the mini-training.

Winchester and Mapa had personal experiences with loved ones who had drug use disorders, which made them particularly interested in choosing to create an information hub that would serve families without stigmatizing addiction disorders. The site's opening page includes a personalized welcome message that reads:

We wanted to create a website for those seeking clear information about opioid use and its potential effects on child development... Life can be really hard sometimes. We hope this site will act as a stepping stone toward feeling it is a little bit more manageable. We are glad you are here.

"Our goal in this MNLEND project is to equip community members with knowledge about supporting children impacted by opioid use and to create connections for families and individuals during vulnerable times," they wrote in a project description.

Another goal of the project was to highlight data showing the alarming increases in opioid deaths among certain communities in Minnesota, underscoring the need to connect those communities with resources related to NAS. Drug overdose mortality rates more than doubled in the African American and American Indian communities [U.S. census categories] in Minnesota between 2010 and 2016, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

"We've tried to be culturally responsive, addressing the racial and ethnic disparities in Minnesota," said Dosch Brown, MNLEND program director. Resources are included from a wide variety of both urban and rural areas in Minnesota.

"We started with just opioid resources, but the more conversations we had and stories we heard, we knew had to include food shelves, domestic violence, mental health, and other resources for people and families," Winchester said. "It's powerful to see how interconnected all these things are. We have to be aware of all the other things that could be happening in families."

Submitted by Jennifer Drummond