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ELEVATE Works to Reduce Drug-Related Pregnancy Deaths

They got $14 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health for two projects focused on helping pregnant women overcome substance abuse disorders.
Kevin Cody
University of Utah Hospital main entrance in Salt Lake City on June 23, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Cody | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


In 2019, a study conducted at University of Utah Health found that drugs are the number one cause of pregnancy-related deaths in Utah. ELEVATE Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence, a new research center at the U, has worked hard to diminish this problem.

Torri Metz is ELEVATE’s lead investigator and the vice chair of Research of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the U. She explained the work the U hospital has done to create safe and capable clinics for women who struggle with drug-related deaths during and after pregnancy.

“At the University of Utah hospital, we have a specific clinic for patients who have substance use disorder in pregnancy,” she said. “That clinic really brings together all the experts in different fields to ensure that we can have the best outcomes for these patients.”

With the help of $24 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, ELEVATE has set up two projects focused on helping pregnant women overcome substance abuse disorders and improve their overall health.

The first project ELEVATE initiated aims to spread safe and capable clinics to all areas of Utah. The purpose of this project is to provide healthcare access to communities most affected by drug-related pregnancy deaths — namely, the Native American and rural populations.

ELEVATE partnered with Sacred Circle Healthcare — a system of clinics managed by Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation — to make this project possible.

“We want to take this multidisciplinary care model that we’ve established at the main University of Utah hospital and spread it to another clinical setting,” Metz said. “We’ve partnered with Sacred Circle Healthcare, a community clinic that serves a predominantly Native American population, to accomplish this. The project’s purpose is to adapt the battle to make sure that it’s meeting the cultural and health needs of the community.”

ELEVATE’s second project is focused on creating a welcoming and safe environment for patients. Metz said there is a need to reduce stigma and bias related to caring for patients who have substance use disorder, so patients can feel comfortable coming in for help.

“We commonly hear that patients who have substance use disorder feel mistreated when they do access the health care system,” Metz said. “We really want to try to change that narrative so that when patients are accessing the healthcare system, we can optimize their outcomes and meet their needs.”

Jasmin Charles is the clinical director of the Substance Use & Pregnancy Addiction Dependence Clinic. She explained the importance of talking about drug-related pregnancy deaths and diminishing the stigma around those who struggle with it.

“People can help by not just realizing the issue, but also talking about how substance use disorders is a chronic illness,” she said. “And even more so, people can help by treating people like people.”

Ultimately, the goal of these two projects is to help diminish pregnancy-related deaths not only in Utah but throughout the nation. ELEVATE hopes to accomplish this goal by creating a system of safe and welcoming clinics and raising awareness of the problem.

“We are trying to implement the same model we have at the U in a different clinic and different cultural setting,” Charles said. “Ultimately, we hope we can create some sort of toolkit that would allow others to do something similar across the state and nationally. We want to make this healthcare accessible to everyone.”


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About the Contributors
Jamie Faux, News Writer
(she/her) Jamie Faux began as a news reporter at the Daily Utah Chronicle in the summer of 2023. She is a double major in English and finance at the University of Utah with the goal of becoming an author after graduation. Jamie grew up in Provo and enjoys outdoor sports, reading, and traveling.
Kevin Cody, Photographer
Although he was born in Texas, Kevin Cody quickly found his home in the mountains of the west. He is a storyteller at heart, focusing on experiencing the world through his camera. Kevin will graduate this fall with a communications degree with a minor in digital photography. This is Kevin's second undergraduate degree as he is an alumnus of Oklahoma State University, a 2013 graduate with a degree in natural resource ecology and management.

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