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CDC Issues New Warning to Pregnant Women Using Opioids

Photograph by Twenty20

As America's opioid epidemic continues to rear its ugly head, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sends out another terrifying message—this time, addressing pregnant women and their families.

According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the number of pregnant women with opioid use disorder (OUD)—a physical and psychological dependency to opioids (a substance found in certain prescription pain medications and illegal drugs)—during labor and delivery has more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2014.

Even more frightening are the severe health problems that accompany this life-altering addiction. From maternal death to preterm birth, stillbirth and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)—a group of conditions that occur when your baby withdraws from drugs they were exposed to in the womb—the variety of adverse reactions relating to opioid abuse are brutal, and often fatal.

"These findings illustrate the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on families across the U.S., including on the very youngest," CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D., said in a statement. "Untreated opioid use disorder during pregnancy can lead to heartbreaking results. Each case represents a mother, a child and a family in need of continued treatment and support."

The study, which analyzed women in 28 states using a state inpatient database, found that the rate of OUD increased 333 percent—from 1.5 cases per 1,000 delivery hospitalizations to 6.5, an average annual increase of 0.4 per 1,000 delivery hospitalizations per year.

The number of pregnant women with opioid use disorder during labor and delivery has more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2014.

Overall, California and Hawaii had the lowest rate increase (an average growth of less than 0.1 cases per 1,000 each year), while Maine, New Mexico, Vermont and West Virginia showed the highest (more than 2.5 additional cases per 1,000 each year).

“Even in states with the smallest annual increases, more and more women are presenting with opioid use disorder at labor and delivery,” said Wanda Barfield, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., Rear Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) and director, Division of Reproductive Health. “These state-level data can provide a solid foundation for developing and tailoring prevention and treatment efforts.”

Simply put, the U.S. opioid epidemic is out of control and the CDC believes that “state-level action,” including efforts from providers, is needed to better identify, monitor and treat women with OUD during pregnancy. One approach, as stated in the report, suggests improving access to data in Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. Other recommendations include developing a better system for substance abuse screening, use of medication-assisted therapy and substance abuse treatment referrals.

Last year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published an article discussing the OUD epidemic in pregnancy. In it, they stated that pregnant women "with opioid use disorder often suffer from co-occurring mental health conditions, particularly depression, history of trauma, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.”

Most expectant mothers with OUD want to do the right thing, but sometimes reality can be scary. If you or someone you know is taking opioid pain medication while pregnant, make sure you are aware of the risks involved and find the help and support needed. A list of local treatment programs for opioid use disorder can be found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

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