PEI

Methadone and motherhood: New P.E.I. film aims to raise awareness

Methadone treatment therapy is the safest and best choice for women struggling with opioid addictions while pregnant - that’s the message Health PEI wants to send out to both health care providers and moms through the film, Mothers & Methadone.

Health PEI wants to fight the stigma surrounding methadone treatment

Courtney McGee is one of the women featured in the documentary who shares her story about being in a methadone maintenance program while pregnant. (Jenna MacMillan, Health PEI)

Methadone treatment therapy is the safest and best choice for women struggling with opioid addictions while pregnant.

That's the message Health PEI wants to send out to both health care providers and moms through the film, Mothers & Methadone.

Health PEI with funding from Health Canada's Drug Treatment Funding Program commissioned filmmaker Jenna MacMillan to create a short, 10-minute film to bring greater awareness about the issue.

"We wanted to find a way to reduce the stigma and to explain the evidence ... both to health care providers and to moms and their families so that people could understand that going on methadone was the right choice and a supported choice and something that is the best thing for everyone," explained Shauna Reddin, the addictions programming manager with Health PEI.

'We wanted to find a way to reduce the stigma,' said Shauna Reddin, the addictions programming manager with Health PEI. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

The film tells the stories of four Island mothers who were in a methadone maintenance program while pregnant.

Island mother Courtney McGee is one of of those women. She sought help for her addiction through the Island's methadone treatment program.

"There are people who are going to judge you and bring you down, but there is way more people out there that care about you getting healthy," McGee said. "The care is there. It is readily available, and there are people who will help you out along the way."

Fighting the stigma

Methadone is used to help people struggling with opioid addictions. Withdrawal from opioids can make someone feel like they have the flu all the time, Reddin explained. Methadone or suboxone are therapies used to significantly reduce the symptoms of withdrawal that allow individuals to focus on the rest of their recovery.

Many people judge women harshly for choosing to be on methadone while pregnant, Reddin explains, but Health PEI says it's the best choice for both mothers and their babies.

Health PEI with funding from Health Canada's Drug Treatment Funding Program commissioned the film, Mothers & Methadone to bring greater awareness about opioid addiction and pregnancy. (Jenna MacMillan, Health PEI)

Treatment is safe for babies and for the mom it stabilizes drug use and lifestyle, reduces risk of infections, and lowers the risk of crime associated with drug use, according to a news release from the P.E.I. government.

"People seem to think that being on opioid replacement therapy while pregnant is a selfish choice — that the baby pays for the mom's decision, and in reality the opposite is true. The baby is kept safe by the mom staying as healthy as she can through her pregnancy," said Reddin.

Babies are not born addicts

McGee's son was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome after birth. It happens in babies who have been exposed to different drugs in prenatal care and pregnancy. It can take some time for the syndrome to manifest, but if a mother lets doctors know she is dependent, then they can be extra watchful of the infant, Reddin explained.

McGee's baby was healthy and symptom-free after several weeks of treatment in hospital. 

While there might be a physical dependency upon birth, babies are not born addicted, said Reddin.

Access to methadone treatment is much easier today than it has been in the past.

"There would have been an assumption that the wait lists are long and access is poor, but that's not the case any longer. And the stigma is going down. I think that it's becoming more accepted that the right choice is to get treatment and that methadone or suboxone is a treatment and not another drug," explained Reddin.

'You don't have to do it alone'

The film's director Jenna MacMillan is thrilled to be a part of this initiative and effort to provide clarity to the misconceptions people might have about addiction and treatment.

Filmmaker Jenna MacMillan (left) said she is thrilled to have been commissioned to make the film, Mothers & Methadone. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"I really wanted to make the project," said MacMillan. "We learned a lot about the strength and resiliency of these moms."

She says she hopes the film will remind people that treatment is available to them.

"It's a huge struggle and there is help out there and you don't have to do it alone," she said.

The film will be screened publicly for the first time during PEI Fest — celebrating film, food and ideas.

"It's such a perfect premiere for this film because all of the films deal with issues about the human condition and films that inspire us to make an impact ... I just think it's so fitting for this film to have the premiere in this way," said MacMillan.

"I'm really excited for people to see it."

PEI Fest runs from July 13-July 16. Mothers & Methadone will be screened on Saturday during the shorts program. MacMillan will participate in a question and answer period after the screening.

About the Author

Katerina Georgieva is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Windsor. She has also worked for CBC in Charlottetown, Toronto and Winnipeg.