Opiate Abuse is Rampant Among Pregnant Women

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

When expectant mothers abuse drugs, they aren’t just placing their own lives in danger – they’re also putting the lives of their unborn children at risk. And according to some newly released and disturbing data, more moms-to-be are abusing opioid drugs than ever before.

The Epidemic of Opiate Abuse

New data concerning pregnant women and opioid addiction shows we likely have a new epidemic on our hands here in the U.S. According to the statistics, the number of pregnant women either abusing or addicted to opioids has jumped more than 127 percent over the last 14 years.

These findings were published in last month’s issue of the journal Anesthesiology.

Pregnancy and Addiction Statistics

Researchers analyzed data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, specifically focusing on the detailed information of 57 million pregnant women who were admitted to U.S. hospitals between 1998 and 2011. What they found was both startling and frightening.

  • Opioid abuse and dependence among pregnant women more than doubled during this time period.
  • Opioid abuse among pregnant women grew by 162 percent among women between the ages of 20 and 34.

The Dangers Opiates Pose

This spike in drug dependence poses serious health risks for both mother and baby. Some of the most pressing negative effects include:

  • Opioid-dependent pregnant women are nearly five times as likely to die during hospitalization
  • Addicted pregnant women have much longer hospital stays than mothers who do not abuse drugs
  • Babies born to opiate-dependent women are twice as likely to be stillborn, born prematurely or suffer poor growth
  • Pregnant opiate addicts are also three times more likely to suffer a placental abruption (when the placenta prematurely separates from the uterine wall)

“Our study shows that these patients are at very high risk for developing complications,” said Lisa R. Leffert, M.D., lead author of the study and chief of obstetric anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. “Given the rapid rise in opioid abuse and dependence in these patients, there is an urgent need to understand the link with bad outcomes and to develop interventions to help prevent them.”

Given the rapid rise in opioid abuse and dependence in these patients, there is an urgent need to understand the link with bad outcomes and to develop interventions to help prevent them.-Dr. Lisa R. Leffert

More Disturbing Facts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published its own data last month, showing that record numbers of women are now abusing opioids before realizing they are pregnant. According to the CDC:

woman taking medication while pregnant
  • Using Medicaid, 39 percent of pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 44 filled opioid prescriptions from 2008 to 2012
  • Using a private insurance carrier, 28 percent of all pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 44 filled opioid prescriptions from 2008 to 2012
  • About 13,500 babies are born each year with opioid withdrawal symptoms, which can include seizures, breathing problems, tremors and heart defects.
  • Opiate-related birth defects are typically seen when expectant mothers abuse drugs between the fourth and tenth weeks of pregnancy.
  • When pregnant women abuse heroin, approximately 60 to 70 percent of their newborns require at least 30 days of intensive withdrawal treatment.

Learn more about the symptoms of withdrawal brought on by opiate addiction.

Image Credits: Flickr/ScienceDaily

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