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Nursing faculty’s fight to address substance use disorder challenges in South Carolina

As overdose rates continue to rise, National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week is a crucial time for addressing the complexities surrounding substance use disorders (SUD). Adults and adolescents gaining access to potent substances through avenues like the dark web, with its global reach and discreet delivery mechanisms, underscore the urgency of addressing this issue comprehensively.

Becoming a “Good Mother”

Dr. Phyllis Raynor, a distinguished doctoral-prepared advanced practice nurse at the University of South Carolina College of Nursing, was recently awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for her research striving to improve health outcomes for South Carolina families with SUD. Her research endeavors are primarily concentrated in underserved areas, particularly rural communities and among demographics with less opportunities for treatment due to systemic biases or lack of access. “We look to address inequities and work with those who are under resourced to see if we can improve outcomes for those who are most vulnerable to those inequities,” Raynor says.

Contrary to common misconceptions framing SUD as a moral failing, Raynor emphasizes that SUD is a chronic brain disease, in need of understanding and care. She highlights the societal stigma attached to individuals with SUD, particularly pregnant women, stressing the need for non-punitive approaches to treatment and support.

Early in Raynor’s professional career, she spent time volunteering for a faith-based recovery support program where she taught behavioral health promotion strategies such as refusal skills training and coping skills. During one presentation, a woman asked , “How do I become a good mother when I’ve never been that before?” Raynor didn’t have a good answer at the time. But this question served as the motivation for her research journey, emphasizing the critical need for addiction support systems and resources.

There was very little literature about treating families affected by SUD, most research had been about the individual alone. In contrast, the recovering individual’s relationships are just as important to the recovery process once they leave the residential-based program and transition back into their communities. One of the things that communities can do to help bridge that gap is to offer parenting support systems.

Bridging the Gap

Collaborating with researchers, local organizations, health care providers and parents in recovery from SUD, Raynor is at the forefront of initiatives aimed at increasing access to evidence-based treatments and harm reduction strategies. For underserved populations lacking community resources, she has been working with a mobile app manufacturer tailoring digital support for pregnant people and their families. This may not only improve the health outcomes of the parents but also their newborns.

Along with embracing technology and advocating for community support, Raynor also tackles the policy changes needed to increase access to those who would benefit from treatments – including medication assisted treatments (MAT) for SUD and harm reduction techniques.

By challenging misconceptions, fostering support networks, and championing initiatives to expand access to treatment and harm reduction strategies, Dr. Raynor finds hope in the fight against SUD.

Although using substances may be an individual thing, it has a family impact. We need to start looking at recovering the family, not just the individual. Because if you don’t feel like you’re a good parent, that’s a factor in a person returning to substance use.”

Phyllis Raynor, USC College of Nursing
phyllis raynor

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