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Pregnant women's substance abuse mitigated

VALLEJO, Calif., Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Cost-benefit analysis shows an intervention program for pregnant U.S. women at risk of substance abuse could save $2 billion a year nationally, researchers say.

Dr. Nancy C. Goler of The Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, Calif., said the Kaiser Permanente Early Start program helps pregnant women at risk of substance abuse achieve health outcomes -- for both mothers and their infants -- similar to those for women who do not use cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.

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Kaiser Permanente has proved the program decreases maternal and neonatal morbidity and stillbirths, Goler said.

"Now, we're able to show everyone that not only is it the right thing to do, we will save money," Goler, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "This program is a very low-technology intervention that has an enormous net cost savings."

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The study examined 49,261 women, comparing the healthcare costs for pregnant women in four groups, and found the Early Start program yields an average net cost benefit of $5.9 million annually.

One group of women at risk for substance abuse in pregnancy participated in full Early Start services, including a 1-hour psychosocial assessment and follow-up appointments; the second group had limited Early Start services, including a 1-hour psychosocial assessment without follow-up; the third group did not access Early Start; and the women in the control group tested negative for substance use in pregnancy and were not at risk.

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The study, published online in Obstetrics & Gynecology, estimated nearly $2 billion could be saved for every 4 million births each year if the program was implemented nationwide.

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