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U Doctoral Student Earns National Accolades for Research on Opioid Use During Pregnancy



Sarah (Priddy) Reese, a doctoral candidate, is the recipient of the 2019 Society for Social Work and Research Doctoral Fellows Award for her dissertation proposal on opioid misuse during pregnancy.

Ms. Reese’s dissertation proposal was judged one of the top proposals in the field of social work in the United States. The prestigious national award recognizes the significance of the problem her research addresses, the rigor of her analysis, and its contribution to knowledge in social work and social welfare.

She received the award for her proposal, “The Impact of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Opioid Misuse during Pregnancy and the Mother-Infant Relationship: A Randomized-Controlled Trial,” on Saturday, January 19, 2019.

Opioid misuse is having a devastating impact on individuals, families, and our greater society, Ms. Reese said.

Over the past 10 years, the rate of opioid use during pregnancy has more than quadrupled. This has contributed to an increase in poor birth outcomes—such as premature birth and low birth weight—as well as higher healthcare costs and more maternal deaths. In Utah, drug-related complications are the No. 1 cause of death for women who are pregnant or have recently given birth and most of those deaths are opioid-related.

“Women struggling with opioid use during pregnancy have a higher rate of co-occurring physical and psychological conditions than women not using opioids,” said Ms. Reese. “The latest research suggests a relationship between addiction and parenting deficits. Between 50 percent and 80 percent of child welfare cases involve a parent with a substance use disorder.” 

That’s why Ms. Reese is focusing her dissertation research on an individual, mindfulness-based intervention for pregnant women using opioids. Supported by a Varela grant from the Mind and Life Institute, she is adding to a growing body of research around using mindfulness to target the mechanisms of addiction and enhance mother-baby attachment. Her study brings together research on the treatment of opioid misuse and promotion of responsive caregiving with the goal of fostering a healthy mother-infant bond, overall maternal-infant well-being and reducing child maltreatment.

“If we want to develop and deliver effective interventions, it is imperative that social workers and other healthcare and social service providers understand the factors that contribute to the initiation and maintenance of opioid misuse,” Ms. Reese said.

For many women, pregnancy motivates them to seek treatment for a substance use problem, she said.

“But pregnancy can also be barrier to treatment because there are few treatment programs that can appropriately meet the needs of pregnant women,” Ms. Reese said. “In some states, women risk being reported to child protective services or face legal prosecution for opioid use during pregnancy. Fear of those consequences can further delay prenatal care and substance use disorder treatment.”



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Last Updated: 12/12/23