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Helpless and Hooked

Helpless and Hooked

By Lauren G. Schmidt, Health Education Program Consultant, Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County

The Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County received a $25,000 Community Impact grant from the St. Joseph Foundation Health and Human Services, a fund of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.  The grant will be used to support the Growing Strong Families program, an evidence-based program that addresses the social determinants of health impacting one’s ability to achieve specific health goals.  The program offers home visiting by a Registered Nurse to at-risk pregnant and postpartum women and their families.

The primary goal of the program is to empower the at-risk women enrolled in the program to change their behavior in order to improve the quality of life and that of their children and families.  The program is thriving because of inter-department and community collaboration.

The grant, entitled “Helpless and Hooked” brings awareness to the national prescription drug abuse epidemic that is now afflicting increasing numbers of pregnant women, fueling an explosion in cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in Florida’s newborns.  More than 4,000 babies were born addicted to opioids in Florida last year, an increase of over 1,000 percent than a decade ago.

Lee County has emerged as the epicenter of the opioid epidemic in Southwest Florida with Charlotte County trailing behind.  In January 2017, Bayfront Hospital Port Charlotte began tracking the number of substance exposed newborns (SENS) admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU).  From January 2017-April 2019, 34% of newborns admitted to the NICU were substance exposed.  The average overall cost of care for an NAS baby was $190,000 with an average length of stay at 19 days.

The financial burden pales in comparison to the human costs:  a new mother not being able to care for her child because the infant has to withdraw from prescription opioids in a NICU cannot be calculated.  Newborns withdrawing from prescription opioids have prolonged high-pitch crying, suffer tremors and seizures and have poor feeding problems.

A Substance Exposed Newborn Task Force was established in 2017 which includes the Registered Nurse from the Growing Strong Families program.  Goals of the Task Force include improving health outcomes for the mother and infant and improving educational outcomes as a baby’s life should not begin in detox. The Ft. Myers based Operation PAR (Medication Assisted Treatment clinic) established a satellite clinic in Charlotte County in 2018.  Clients are treated for their opioid addiction through programs offered by Operation PAR, Charlotte Behavioral Healthcare and through private doctors.  Methadone maintenance is the most successful treatment available for opioid addiction and the most effective.  Counseling and routine drug testing is required while participating in the program.

Substance abusing pregnant women need comprehensive treatment services.  This complete system of care supports and improves a mother’s chance of sustaining a drug-free lifestyle and enables her to care for her child.  The Growing Strong Families program continues to work with all women (whether mothers or grandmothers) and their families to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society, drug exposed newborns, can grow up to become healthy, happy children.


This summer, Florida Weekly has graciously allowed us, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to spotlight the nonprofit organizations funded through the Foundation’s 2019 competitive grant cycle.  Funds made available for these grants are graciously given by donors through Field of Interest Funds. Many of these donors are deceased and have left instructions to the Foundation on the causes they care about and then rely on the Foundation team to address the communities’ greatest needs within the established criteria by the donor.  We have asked these grantees to share their stories. We are pleased to partner with these change-makers.


The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $6.8 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $126 million, it has provided $78.2 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit



Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

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