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Study Reveals Most New Mexico Families with Substance-Exposed Infants Avoid Subsidized Treatment

A recent study has shown that the majority of New Mexico families with infants exposed to illicit drugs, marijuana, and alcohol during pregnancy have been opting out of subsidized addiction treatment and voluntary support services. This shift in behavior is a result of changes in the state’s approach, implemented in 2020, which discontinued automatic referrals to protective services.

The Legislature’s budget and accountability office presented these findings to a panel of lawmakers. The altered strategy, influenced by federal drug-abuse legislation, aimed to keep parents together with their children to prevent the trauma associated with separation.

While the revised approach succeeded in retaining more families, it falls short of ensuring the safety of newborns and directing families towards necessary treatments. Parents frequently decline services, including mental health counseling and home visits by nurses focused on enhancing infant health and development. The study underscores that parental drug and alcohol use is a significant risk factor for child neglect and abuse.

Ryan Tolman, a program evaluator with the Legislature’s budget and accountability office, noted that the majority of these families do not receive the support services or substance-use treatment they require.

The study found that the rates of newborns with substance withdrawal symptoms in New Mexico are more than twice the national average. However, only one out of seven local families with substance-exposed newborns accepts referrals for addiction treatment.

Even when families do accept services, the study identified obstacles to monitoring and tracking long-term participation, which is not mandated by law. In contrast, some other states, such as Arizona, require child protective services to monitor progress and participation when referrals are made for substance-exposed infants. Illinois has extensive requirements for meetings between caseworkers and parents.

These findings come in the midst of a comprehensive overhaul of New Mexico’s foster care and child welfare agency. The state’s recurrence rate of reported child abuse cases ranks among the highest in the nation, primarily due to workforce shortages in the child welfare system.

The revised approach to substance-exposed newborns was introduced by New Mexico legislators in 2019, requiring hospitals and birthing centers to create a care plan for infants exposed to drugs and alcohol before birth, in collaboration with medical providers, insurers, and state agencies.

In response to the study, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration defended its management of the program, stating that it has improved outcomes for hundreds of infants and families. The administration also plans to hire 20 new professional “navigators” to assist families with substance-exposed newborns in accessing services.

Physicians and experts emphasized the importance of allocating resources not only to infants but also to the well-being of their parents, especially in addressing the needs of pregnant and postpartum women with substance use disorders.

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