Site logo

Overcoming Substance Use Disorders During Pregnancy

Recent US studies highlight the urgent necessity for effective interventions to treat substance use disorders in pregnant women. While addiction services are available to pregnant women, access to care is blocked by stigma, shame, price, transportation, and legal ramifications of seeking help while pregnant. 

Pregnant women hold their bellies, emphasizing the need for support and treatment for pregnant women with substance use disorders to ensure maternal and fetal health

Meanwhile, overdoses contributed to more than 1 in 6 deaths related to pregnancy in the United States. We must remove the barriers to let women feel safe enough to get the necessary healthcare. Demonstrating unwavering dedication in tackling this problem is vital to protect maternal and fetal well-being.

Maternal Mortality and Pregnancy-Related Fatalities

Maternal mortality and pregnancy-associated fatalities are distinct but interconnected terms. Maternal mortality refers to the death of a woman during pregnancy or within 42 days of termination, regardless of the cause. 

Pregnancy-associated fatalities encompass all deaths occurring during pregnancy or within one year after delivery, including accidental injuries, suicides, and drug overdoses.

Data Collection and Research

Gaining access to accurate statistics on pregnancy-related deaths has been a challenge. However, recent efforts to improve data collection have yielded significant progress.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there has been a notable increase of around 81 percent in the availability of such data since 2017, allowing researchers to examine the factors contributing to pregnancy-related fatalities more comprehensively.

Moreover, the number of pregnancy-related overdose deaths has gone up. In 2020, there were about 12 pregnancy-related overdose fatalities for every 100,000 live births. This is an increase of 46 percent in just one year. 

One vital development helping the collection of precise information is the inclusion of a checkbox on death certificates to indicate if the deceased woman was pregnant at the time of her death. 

This simple but crucial addition has facilitated the identification of cases involving maternal mortality or pregnancy-associated fatalities, enabling healthcare professionals and policymakers to assess the scale of the issue and implement appropriate interventions.

Access to this information can improve local healthcare, allowing more resources to be allocated for areas with high maternal overdose fatalities. Data collection is the first step in improving healthcare.

Barriers to Treatment for Drug Use in Pregnancy

The majority of states in the US have strict laws addressing substance use during pregnancy, which have created a climate of fear for expectant mothers. Some laws vary across states but often involve legal consequences for drug use during pregnancy. Such penalties may include incarceration, mandatory reporting to child protective services, and even the loss of custody rights.

Understandably, these potential effects weigh heavily on pregnant women, deterring them from seeking the treatment they desperately need.

The looming threat of legal repercussions significantly influences pregnant women’s decisions to refrain from seeking treatment for substance use disorders. The fear of being reported or facing legal action can lead to a cycle of silence and avoidance, preventing expectant mothers from accessing vital healthcare services. 

Breaking this barrier requires a compassionate approach that prioritizes the well-being of both the mother and the unborn child, offering support and treatment options free from the fear of criminal prosecution.

Rise in Newborn Foster Care Placements

The rising trend of newborn placements in foster care has become a pressing concern, highlighting the need for a deeper understanding of the factors driving this increase and their implications for the child welfare system.

The connection between parental drug use and newborn placements is becoming increasingly evident. Between 2011 and 2017, at least half of the placements of newborns into foster care were directly linked to parental drug use. 

This alarming trend has led to an annual increase of 10,000 infants entering the foster care system. This underscores the urgent need for comprehensive support systems that address the underlying issues contributing to parental drug use to preserve family unity and ensure the well-being of these vulnerable infants.

Challenges for Children of Mothers with Substance Use Disorders

Children of mothers with substance use disorders (SUDs) often face significant challenges that can have long-term effects on their well-being and development. 

One such challenge for children is access to care. In some cases, children are born addicted due to the drug use of the mother during pregnancy. This child will require medical care, but may also need lifelong therapy to prevent drug use in adulthood. Many children do not have access to the medical care they need due to a lack of money or transportation. Plus, many rehabilitation facilities and addiction care centers cater to adults, which may isolate young children recovering from addiction.

Growing up in an unstable environment and experiencing the effects of parental substance abuse can have lasting impacts on the physical, emotional, and cognitive development of children. Without adequate support and intervention, these children may face challenges in their education, social relationships, and overall life trajectory.

Being separated from your parents at a young age has been linked to childhood trauma. Among the different age groups in foster care, infants have experienced the most significant increase, accounting for over 20 percent of annual placements. Many of these infant placements are due to parental addiction. If more pregnant women have access to addiction treatment, fewer children will have to be separated from their families and fewer babies will be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

Pregnant Women Need Addiction Support

Support and prevention strategies are crucial to address substance use disorders in pregnant women. Treatment for these women must be prioritized, ensuring they receive care to overcome addiction and protect mother and child. Access to prenatal care and support services must be available to all, including those with substance use disorders. 

Healthcare professionals need improved awareness and education to identify and support pregnant women effectively. Advocacy for policy changes and decriminalization is vital for a compassionate environment, encouraging women to seek help without legal fear. These measures are crucial to addressing the pressing issues facing pregnant women with substance use disorders.