Opioid Use Quadrupled Among Pregnant Women

By Kelly Burch 08/14/18

The prevalence of opioid use disorder present at a hospital delivery rose from 1.5 per 1,000 deliveries in 1999 to 6.5 per 1,000 in 2014.

group of pregnant women

Opioid use among pregnant women quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, rising alongside the rate at which opioid use disorder has increased in the general population, according to a new report. 

"When something is so broad and affects all populations, we also see it reflected in the pregnant population,” Dr. Elizabeth E. Krans, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, told CNN Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its report on Friday (August 10). The CDC analysis found that nationally, the prevalence of opioid use disorder present at a hospital delivery rose from 1.5 per 1,000 deliveries in 1999 to 6.5 per 1,000 in 2014.

However, in some states the problem was much more prevalent. In Vermont, for example, opioids are a factor in 48.6 out of every 1,000 deliveries. 

Data was only available in 28 states, but indicated that opioid use in pregnant populations varies widely. Washington, D.C. had the lowest prevalence in 2014 at just 0.7 deliveries per 1,000, while Vermont had the highest.

The increase in the prevalence of opioids was also uneven: California and Hawaii saw relatively small increases, while Maine, New Mexico, Vermont and West Virginia saw large spikes in the reported use of opioids among pregnant women. 

State policies on drug use during pregnancy can affect reporting, since in 23 states and Washington, D.C., using drugs while pregnant is considered child abuse. This might prevent some women from being honest about their drug use. 

"Data on the impact of these policies are scarce," the authors wrote. 

"Pregnancy is a really important time. Women are often worried that invested in their own health and the health of their baby, but they're also fearful of judgment," Krans said. 

Women who are using opioids when they become pregnant are often told to go on medication-assisted treatment throughout their pregnancies, as that is the safest option for mother and baby. "We have effective treatments that are available during pregnancy, and we want to encourage women to seek early care and engage in treatment as soon as possible,” Krans said. 

Left untreated, opioid use can lead to a variety of pregnancy complications and negative health effects for the child. 

“Opioid use by pregnant women represents a significant public health concern given the association of opioid exposure and adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes, including preterm labor, stillbirth, neonatal abstinence syndrome, and maternal mortality,” the authors wrote. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.