Drug addiction can affect anyone, including pregnant and postpartum women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in seven Americans reports experiencing a substance use disorder.1 Some people may not realize that this number includes pregnant and postpartum women. People from all walks and stages of life can be affected by drug addiction including pregnant women. A recent study done by Columbia University found that during the COVID-19 pandemic the number of pregnant and postpartum women dying from drug overdoses rose significantly.2
The researchers of the study analyzed death certificates from 2017 to 2020 of 7,642 women who died while pregnant or in early postpartum. Of those 7,642 women, 1,249 of them died of a drug overdose. The most common drugs overdosed on included methamphetamine, cocaine, and fentanyl. The researchers noticed that drug overdose deaths significantly increased in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time the rate of overdose deaths among pregnant and newly postpartum women went from 6.56 per 100,000 women to 11.85 per 100,000 women.2 That is almost double the rate.
One belief of why there are so many drug overdose deaths among pregnant and postpartum women is that they are less likely to seek help due to social pressures and stigmas. Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow told NBC News, “Drug use is incredibly stigmatized in general. It goes to an even higher level of stigma among pregnant women.”3
Fortunately, there are medications that can help with drug withdrawal such as methadone and buprenorphine and they are safe for pregnant women. Unfortunately, some doctors may feel uncomfortable treating pregnant women. This is another factor that makes seeking help for drug use during pregnancy difficult. In October 2022, the Biden administration released a report that encouraged greater access to these withdrawal medications for pregnant women.3 Hopefully, the stigma of pregnant women using drugs and seeking help will lessen. These women deserve help just as much as anyone else. If you or someone you know is suffering from drug addiction, please seek help.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, February 23). Stigma reduction. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 11, 2022
- Bruzelius E, Martins SS. US Trends in Drug Overdose Mortality Among Pregnant and Postpartum Persons, 2017-2020. JAMA. 2022;328(21):2159–2161. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.17045
- NBCUniversal News Group. (2022, December 6). Drug deaths among pregnant women hit a record high. NBCNews.com. Retrieved December 11, 2022