Utah: Pregnancy Risk Line Reaches 25-Year Milestone

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Each week in Utah, nearly 200 mothers and mothers-to-be call for help from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Pregnancy Risk Line (PRL). Launched in 1984 by the University of Utah (U of U) and UDOH, the program offers free phone counseling for women and their doctors about the possible effects of drugs, chemicals and maternal illnesses on a developing fetus or breast-fed baby.

It’s the largest and one of the longest-running services of its kind in the country U of U professor of Pediatrics Dr. John C. Carey founded the Risk Line because of problems he had getting drug and pregnancy information for his patients. “Worse that that,” said Carey, “the information that was out there was confusing and contradictory.”

Today, mothers from across the state celebrated the PRL’s 25th birthday at an event at the UDOH Children’s Clinic, thanking the program for helping their babies come into the world safely.

“There’s still a lot of misleading information out there about drugs and pregnancy,” said PRL Program Manager Julia Robertson. “Some moms get scared and stop taking medicine when they shouldn’t. Others take something and worry later it could cause a birth defect, and then consider abortion.”

But by providing accurate information, the Risk Line has helped save the lives of more than 10,000 Utah babies who were at risk for abortion, birth defects, miscarriage, low birth weight, stillbirth, and prematurity.

In addition to saving lives, the Risk Line has:

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• Served 225,000 callers;

• Educated another 60,000 women and health care providers at other venues like schools, health fairs and conferences, and;

• Saved the health care system and taxpayers more than $139 million.

Risk Line staff members have developed a list of the top 10 most frequent caller topics:

• Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines
• OTC allergy medications
• Antidepressants
• OTC pain relievers
• Antibiotics
• Hair care and cosmetics
• Household cleaning products
• Maternal infections and chronic conditions
• Herbs
• Substances of abuse

Utah Representative Ronda Menlove has taken up the PRL cause and is especially concerned with the effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs of abuse (ATOD) on unborn and breast-fed babies. She sponsored and won passage of HB 38, which mandated UDOH create an educational campaign. The bill is now law and the campaign is underway.

“Smoking and drug and alcohol abuse impact not only the mother but children, too throughout their lifetime,” said Menlove. “I’ve seen the effects of these substances in the lives of children while working in Utah schools. They pay a heavy price and we must make education and awareness a priority,” she added.

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