Long-term adverse outcomes for infants and children may result from opioid use during pregnancy. Although targeted public health strategies have been used to reduce opioid abuse in pregnant-aged individuals, little research has focused on the people who use opioids during pregnancy in the United States. This study is the first to be done in a large, geographic area to determine the epidemiology of opioid abuse, as well as the medical and demographic characteristics of the participants.
Ruby Nguyen (University of Minnesota School of Public Health) was the lead researcher. She analyzed data from 21905 pregnancies across the country to determine if environmental factors had an impact on child health outcomes.
The study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, found:
- 2.8% of pregnancies were subject to opioids.
- Non-Hispanic whites are more likely than non-Hispanic blacks to take opiates in pregnancy, as is anyone who has had a history of depression or multiple substance abuse.
- Prescription drugs account for the majority of opioid use during pregnancy.
“Previous studies have not adequately described people in the U.S. who use opioids during pregnancy, a fact that has limited the efficacy of past public health interventions,” said Nguyen. “As the first nationwide sample of pregnant people to describe their opioid use, the findings of this study can be useful in future efforts to reduce opioid use during pregnancy and limit the negative consequences of fetal exposure to opioids.”
ECHO is a National Institutes of Health (NIH-funded) national consortium of cohort studies of children in America that focuses on the effects of early childhood exposures on child health. Nguyen said that the ECHO study’s large participation of pregnant women was vital.
“This large number of pregnancies in the ECHO program allowed us to investigate opioid use, which is difficult to do in smaller studies because it is a fairly rare exposure in the general population – rare, albeit potentially life altering,” Nguyen explained.
Nguyen said that it is important to assess the benefits of screening for co-occurring addictive behaviors like depression and polysubstance abuse to identify those who are at risk for prenatal opioid exposure.
“While our data were limited on specific details of the type of opioids used, we provide evidence that much of the opioid use during pregnancy originated from prescriptions,” said Nguyen. “Therefore, to address the potential risks with pregnancy, policies to reduce general opioid availability, as well as programs focused on addressing prescription use for the management of both pain and opioid use disorder, should be further explored to target appropriate opioid use.”