Unfortunately, the use of illicit drugs during pregnancy is not as uncommon as many individuals may think. Such abuse may include the use or misuse of prescription medication, street drugs such as heroin or cocaine, or even the excessive use of alcohol.
Statistics of Addiction During Pregnancy
The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that pregnant women suffering from addiction abused opioids more than other types of drugs. An additional study on 1500 anonymous participants showed that approximately one percent of women have abused substances at least once during their pregnancy.
However, another anonymous study conducted in an urban teaching hospital told a slightly different tale. During this study, the detection rate for opioids of all types in expectant mothers who submitted to urine screenings was 2.5 percent.
In a 2015 study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, it was determined that the majority of those suffering from addiction during pregnancy had a substance abuse problem prior to conceiving, as opposed to developing the dependency once the pregnancy was underway.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have acknowledged the prevalence of drug abuse during pregnancy and in 2014, made recommendations that practicing OB/GYNs learn more effective strategies when teaching patients about the myriad dangers to which they are subjecting their unborn children if they abuse any substance when expecting.
The Smallest Victim
Sadly, the baby is the smallest victim of drug abuse. An unborn baby can suffer from multiple problems as soon as he or she enters the world, many of which may have catastrophic repercussions throughout the child’s life. However, the death of the unborn baby is perhaps the most tragic effect of a mother struggling with substance abuse issues during pregnancy.
The Organization of Teratology Information Services reports that the risk of miscarriage, stillborn babies, and placental abruption increases fivefold in those who consume high amounts of opioid-based prescription medication or illicit narcotics such as cocaine while they are pregnant. A woman may also suffer preterm birth, severe bleeding during delivery, and life-threatening anemia post-delivery.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians, the chance of having a child with brain, kidney or genital defects increases by 25 percent if the mother uses substances inappropriately when pregnant. Respiratory problems, autism and mental retardation may also afflict a child born to an addicted mother. Abnormally low birth weight and growth restriction often occur, as well.
Babies may be born addicted, and therefore suffer from withdrawal symptoms during the first 90 days of their lives, including feeding difficulties, muscle spasms, sleeplessness and tremors. This is referred to as neonatal abstinence syndrome, and is typically expected following prenatal exposure to illicit substances or the inappropriate use of prescription medication.
Addiction Treatment During Pregnancy
The current standard of care for expectant mothers suffering from substance abuse issues is opioid-assisted treatment with methadone. This is because the abrupt discontinuation of most addictive substances can lead to fetal distress, preterm labor or fetal death. For this reason, patient stabilization through the use of methadone or a similar substance is typically recommended. Major complications can still arise when such therapy is used, but it is considered by many medical professionals as the “lesser of two evils.”
Currently, only 19 states provide in-house, substance abuse treatment programs specifically for expectant moms. This is because numerous rehabilitation facilities cannot provide the extra assistance needed by women fighting drug dependency during pregnancy. Fortunately, however, federal assistance programs in certain areas can help women to relocate to a state where such services exist, but each client is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately, any woman who is suffering from addiction while carrying an unborn child should seek professional advice as soon as possible to prevent serious health repercussions for herself or her child.