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Dr. Hendrée Jones, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UNC School of Medicine and executive director of the UNC Horizons Program, is a co-author of a Primer for Nature Reviews Disease Primers on neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) that occurs as a result of opioid use during pregnancy – neonatal opioid use withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).

Nature Research publishes Primers in Nature Reviews Disease Primers to provide an overview of a certain disease area by well-known experts and outline key research questions. The Primer was published in November 2018, and includes a detailed poster illustrating NAS.

NOWS refers to signs and symptoms of withdrawal in an infant who was exposed to opioids prenatally through maternal use. The symptoms of NOWS present with a range of severity – and sometimes not at all – for unknown reasons. Symptoms include high-pitched cries, tremors and gastrointestinal problems. As the prevalence of opioid use disorders has grown at an alarming rate, The Primer covers NOWS in relations to its diagnosis, mechanism, epidemiology, pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic management and more so that providers can be educated about this growing problem.

The authors explain that treating NOWS in an infant begins with providing proper care for the mother experiencing opioid use disorder. Women have unique challenges when it comes to substance use disorder treatment, says Jones, and those challenges must be addressed beyond the cessation of the substance.

“We know that women with substance use disorders often have cooccurring hardships that make treatment and recovery more difficult. Intimate partner violence, trauma and poverty all contribute to this disease and must be addressed as well for women to reach full recovery,” says Jones. “It’s important for health-care providers to see the importance of treating the mother and infant together in order to promote true healing and stop the cycle of substance use.”

Jones, an internationally known expert on substance use and pregnancy, is the executive director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s UNC Horizons Program, a substance use disorder treatment program for pregnant and/or parenting women and their children, including those whose lives have been touched by abuse and violence. The program’s trauma-informed model of care focuses on both the mother and the child to heal the whole family and create systems of hope and renewal.

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