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CoastLine: Opioid Use Disorder Impacting Higher Numbers Of Pregnant Women And Babies

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It was 2013 that Dr. William Johnstone came to work as a Professor in the Obstetrics and Gynecology residency program at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. It didn’t take long for him to see the devastating consequences from the opioid epidemic firsthand – although back then, the community was not yet talking about it. 

One hospital administrator tells WHQR the numbers of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome went from about 35 in 2010 to between 120 to 140 by 2016.  Officials expect those numbers to continue rising.

The local increases parallel the trends in both the state and the country. According to North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, 1 out of 100 babies born suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports a five-fold increase in maternal opioid dependency and neonatal abstinence syndrome since 2000.

In February of this year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released new guidelines(see below) on treating pregnant and parenting women with opioid use disorder and their infants. 

For those reasons, Dr. Johnstone is trying a new approach.  He, along with other local medical professionals started Tides, Inc., a new nonprofit that will support pregnant mothers with opioid dependencies.

We’ll learn more about the organization and its treatment protocol – including why he thinks it’s critically important to have options beyond short-term abstinence-based rehabilitation.  We’ll also learn about the trends he’s seeing in the local community. 


William Johnstone,MD, JD, MBA, FACOG, FACS

New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Physician Group OB GYN Specialists


The Tides, Inc. 


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: 

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)


SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

SAMHSA offers a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance abuse/addiction and/or mental health problems:  https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Clinical Guidance for Treating Pregnant and Parenting Women With Opioid Use Disorder And Their Infants:


Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.
Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR