Changing the Course of Treatment for Expectant Mothers | MedStar Health

Changing the Course of Treatment for Expectant Mothers

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A young woman wheels her baby stroller through a group of people at a meeting.

Pictured above, Brittany Hewitt (center), a patient of Dr. Jenkins, joins his substance use disorder support group.

Substance Use Disorder Program for Pregnant Women and Their Babies

In 2011, Chuka Jenkins, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology at MedStar Harbor Hospital, enrolled his first patient in a treatment program for pregnant women and their babies affected by substance use disorders. He started the program while working in MedStar Harbor Hospital’s Fetal Assessment Center after observing the lack of treatment options for mothers who were experiencing addiction during pregnancy.

After researching alternatives to methadone treatment for his patients with opioid use disorders, Dr. Jenkins found that Subutex® (a brand of buprenorphine) had better outcomes and more benefits, including a reduced chance for overdose. In addition, infants whose mothers were treated with the medication during pregnancy were less likely to develop neonatal abstinence syndrome after birth, which includes withdrawal symptoms such as fever, irritability and seizures.

Today, Dr. Jenkins treats about 50 patients monthly with Subutex®. He also runs a support group for his patients so that treatment is an ongoing process.

“I wanted to create a low-barrier program that working mothers could attend later in the evenings,” he says. “Instead of isolating people in perpetual treatment like other programs do, this allows them to complete their treatment within their normal environment and manage their opioid dependence effectively.”

Whether patients come from a history of past recreational substance use, chronic pain management or medication use after an accident or surgery, Dr. Jenkins develops strategies to help them not only overcome addiction, but engage in other parts of their lives. Partnerships with community organizations have helped Dr. Jenkins’ patients earn their high-school equivalency diplomas, secure food stamps and receive peer recovery coach support.

“With Dr. Jenkins’ program, you don’t have to lose everything before you get help,” says patient Brittany Hewitt. “When I relapsed, he even came to court and testified that I had a support system and would get the treatment I needed, which prevented me from going to prison.”


Dr. Jenkins is currently working with community activists to push legislation that makes it easier for patients to access the treatment they need. His hope is that programs like his will become more prevalent in the coming years.

“We’re solving a critical problem here and changing lives,” says Dr. Jenkins. “Taking care of my patients—that’s the biggest reward.”

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To learn more about MedStar Health's programs and initiatives across Maryland and the Washington, D.C., region that are contributing to healthier communities, contact Raquel Lamptey at 410-772-6910