Overdose Risks During Pregnancy Examined In New Study

By Beth Leipholtz 07/20/18

The study revealed the need for better addiction recovery support for pregnant women with substance use disorder. 

pregnant woman looking out the window of home

A new study has found that the risk of overdose drops in pregnant women but increases after giving birth.

The study, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, looked at women giving birth in Massachusetts. In doing so, researchers found a greater number of women with opioid use disorder than had been found in other states. 

Researchers also discovered that during pregnancy, opioid overdose events went down, the third trimester resulting in the lowest amount. However, after birth, that number rose and became especially high from 6 to 12 months after delivery.

"Our findings suggest we need to develop extended and long-term services to support women and families impacted by substance use disorder," said Davida Schiff, a pediatrician at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and the lead author of the paper, according to Science Daily. "We need additional research to determine the best ways to improve retention in treatment and adherence to medication therapy after delivery, and we need to enhance our medical and public health infrastructure to provide support to women in achieving long-term recovery."

In many states, opioid overdoses have been “major contributors to pregnancy-associated deaths.” In pregnant women, estimates of opioid use disorder range from .4 to .8%, and up to 2% in all women that fall into the reproductive age category. 

Pregnancy can drive a woman to seek treatment, Science Daily notes. Often, such treatment includes therapy and potentially medications like methadone or buprenorphine.

Researchers chose to study a Department of Public Health dataset, which included nearly 178,000 deliveries of an infant 20 or more gestational weeks to Massachusetts women between Jan. 1, 2012 and Sept. 30, 2014. Of those, 4,154 women were found to have likelihood of opioid use disorder within a year before giving birth.

Additionally, of the women in the dataset, 184 experienced what researchers refer to as an opioid overdose event in the year preceding or following delivery. Such an event means the woman faced admission to a heath care facility for an overdose or death as a result of an overdose.

Those who experienced an overdose event were “more likely to be younger, single, unemployed, less educated and less likely to have received adequate prenatal care,” Science Daily reported. They were more likely “to have evidence of homelessness or a diagnosis of anxiety or depression.”

Co-author and Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health Monica Bhare says that this research is vital in gaining a bigger picture of who is most at risk.

"These findings help expand the lens from which we view the epidemic and allow us to tailor our policies and programs in ways that will increase opportunities for treatment and recovery for these women and their children,” she said. 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.