Infants experiencing withdrawal from opioid exposure are successfully being treated with volunteer cuddlers in a new 'CALM' program.
It’s easy to underestimate the power of touch, especially when doing nothing but simply cuddling can feel unproductive in our fast paced society. But at Boston Medical Center, volunteers’ loving eagerness to do just that is making a tremendous difference for opioid addicted newborns.
The withdrawal symptoms for these tiny humans are truly heartbreaking, as they frequently experience “tremors and trouble eating and sleeping” resulting from excessive exposure to opioid drugs while in utero. They require longer than normal hospital stays and sadly, spend increased amounts of time away from their mothers, many of whom require addiction treatment for themselves.
In response, Boston Medical Center brilliantly established the CALM program in which volunteers get to spend time cradling, comforting and cuddling these struggling little ones. The rewarding experience of providing such love is so sought after that even with 100 volunteers currently enrolled in the program, there are “150 more on the waiting list.”
Pamela Turcotte, one of the volunteers, told FOX 25 that the hour she spends with the babies is one of the best throughout her entire week. She expressed the joy it brings her, saying, “It just fills you with so much purpose.”
As for the babies, the CALM program has been nothing short of a blessing for them in their difficult days post birth. Dr. Elisha Wachman, the pediatrician in charge of the program, explained that the infants are soothed to sleep simply because they’re in someone’s arms. “By just snuggling a baby, it can be [equivalent to the] difference between a baby getting medication versus not.” It’s remarkable that something so simple can have such powerful healing effects.
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Since CALM first began just a few months ago, Boston Medical Center has amazingly reduced the hospital stays of opioid addicted infants by almost 50 percent. Additionally, Dr. Wachman happily told STAT News, “We’ve been able to drop our medication treatment rates by about 40 percent.” And from a financial standpoint, the program, which costs the hospital absolutely nothing, is on track to save it roughly $2 million in treatment in a year’s time.
But numbers aside, the bottom line is that these little ones ought to receive just as much love and affection as any other newborn, preferably from their own parents. Dr. Wachman is, of course, well aware of this. “We’re really promoting the parents as the primary treatment for the baby,” she said.
However, most of the addiction treatment programs that parents are enrolled in are located outside the hospital and often require overnight stays. As a result, many moms struggling to overcome their addictions are forced to leave their babies while they get help. “Once the moms leave the hospital, there are some parents that find it really difficult to get back here,” Wachman explained.
Which is why the idea of bringing in volunteers with plenty of affection and attention to spare is so genius. It’s undoubtedly tragic that these children spend their first days of life outside the womb struggling against the effects of opioid exposure. What’s heartening, however, is that love is something countless people are eager to provide, especially to brand new babes. So while these little ones are fighting withdrawal symptoms, volunteer cuddlers are lined up to snuggle them through that rough patch.