University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Sanjana Ravikumar



Undergraduate Research Award


Sanjana Ravikumar is a senior undergraduate student at UMass pursuing a degree in Public Health Sciences. Under the mentorship of Dr. Sarah Goff, her research focuses on child abuse and neglect laws pertaining to women with opioid use disorders. Her thesis will focus on the benefits, pitfalls, and proposed implementation of bill H.4392 currently on the MA state floor and compare this legislation to similar laws that exist in other states. She is also interested in the broader intended and unintended effects of punitive laws on women and birthing people with substance use disorders, and the communities of women that may disproportionately experience them.


My research focuses on laws aimed at addressing prenatal opioid use disorder. Rates of opioid use and overdose, especially among women and birthing people, have been rising sharply over the last two decades. Opioid use during pregnancy is associated with a greater risk of negative birth outcomes and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in newborns, where in-utero opioid exposure results in postnatal withdrawal symptoms. Given these trends, many states have passed punitive and supportive measures to mitigate prenatal substance abuse. As of 2020, most state laws were punitive in nature, often containing at least one of the following measures: classifying prenatal opioid use as child abuse/neglect; 2) reporting requirements for DCF purposes, and 3) involuntary commitment to treatment. These measures deter women and birthing people who may struggle with substance use from accessing prenatal care, getting referred to standard-of-care treatment for their substance use, and do not cause significant changes in their behavior/substance use anyway. Due to this, it’s important to understand the potential benefits of introducing more supportive measures. My thesis is meant to understand the
inspiration behind a proposed MA bill meant to introduce more supportive measures for women with substance use disorders, and hopefully the passing of this bill (or even its proposal and movement through committees) can inspire other states to take another look at their laws, and create a safer environment for women to get the help that they need without criminalizing them for doing so.

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