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New Utah initiative aimed at curbing pregnancy-related deaths

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Sep 21, 2023

Courtesy University of Utah Health

In collaboration with community partners, the University of Utah ELEVATE Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence aims to research and prevent substance abuse during pregnancy, the leading cause of maternal mortality in Utah.

Substance use is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death in Utah.

With $14 million support over the past seven years from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Utah ELEVATE Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence aims to reverse that trend. The center is partnering with communities most affected, including rural and Native American populations. The hope is to change the story for mothers with substance use disorders in Utah and also throughout the country.

“This investment from the National Institutes of Health in promoting maternal health in partnership with the community will allow us to create the necessary infrastructure and garner appropriate resources to make strides in preventing the incredibly tragic event of maternal death, which always has far-reaching consequences,” said Dr. Torri Metz, the project’s principal investigator.

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the prevalence of pregnancy-associated deaths because of drug use increased 190% between 2010 and 2019. The National Institutes of Health also reports substance use disorder during pregnancy, particularly with opioids, amphetamines and cocaine, may contribute to severe maternal morbidity in the U.S., which has a higher rate of maternal mortality than any other high-resource nation.

The programs will focus on improving health equity with a special focus on Native mothers. This will include educating the stigma around addictions and logistical and cultural differences that prevent mothers from accessing care.

When left untreated, substance use disorders can have widespread negative effects. Not only do these issues compromise the health of a mother, they can affect the well-being of family, children, communities and workplaces.

“Addressing rising maternal deaths will take innovative approaches to overcome structural barriers such as racism, classism and stigma,” Metz said.

ELEVATE is joining forces with community partners across the state in order to reach populations and health care providers in affected communities. Examples include establishing a perinatal clinic at Sacred Circle, a health system operated by Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, to provide and develop culturally adapted care, and partnering with Moab Regional Hospital and Central Valley Medical Center, which will focus on reducing bias and improve care by training medical staff with specialized programs.


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