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Philadelphia Doula Program May Reduce Fatal Overdose Cases

Research shows that people who have doulas involved in their pregnancy care can have better maternal and infant health outcomes. A new study looking at a Philadelphia doula program for people living with addiction shows that these non-clinical support professionals may help reduce fatal drug overdoses in the postpartum period and strengthen long-term engagement with addiction recovery services. Researchers noted early successes and challenges of the city’s Community Doula Support Program, established in March 2020, in a paper published this month in Maternal and Child Health Journal, WHYY and NPR report. “We know, based on these reflections, this is a very promising model of support,” said Nadia Haerizadeh-Yazdi of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. About a quarter of pregnancy-associated deaths in Philadelphia between 2010 and 2016 were caused by accidental drug overdoses.


That number rose to 39% by 2018 and public health officials expect it to growe. Of those deaths, more than half took place after six weeks postpartum. Haerizadeh-Yazdi said maternal support and health care services tend to drop off after childbirth as newborn infants become prioritized. This can create serious issues for people living with addiction. “They’re still dealing with their issues around substance use, but also they have a newborn as well,” she said. “So, these challenges really intensify.” Seeing a gap in care for a vulnerable population, the city created the doula program, which provides support during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as up to one full year of postpartum. The program contracts with doulas from the Maternity Care Coalition and other organizations. It is funded by the federal Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grant Program, which supports projects centered on mothers, children, and families. MaryNissi Lemon, program manager and certified doula, said the support these professionals provide for this population often goes beyond the care that is typically provided by doulas. They are trained to provide support and guidance in medication-assisted treatments for addiction, intimate partner violence resources, trauma-informed care, housing assistance, child welfare protocols, hospital policies on infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and more.

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