Opioid use disorder (OUD) in pregnant women remains a serious concern among public health officials, who continue to fight fraud and abuse associated with the potent painkillers. Now a new study shows that the number of pregnant women with opioid abuse disorder more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2014.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the alarming trend, published Aug. 9 in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, was measured in pregnant mothers at the time of labor and delivery. Researchers used medical data from the 28 states that keep the records relevant to the study.
According to the CDC, people with opioid use disorder typically develop a multitude of health problems, disability, or failure to meet responsibilities of work, school, and home. The disorder is associated with adverse health impacts on expectant mothers and their babies, including maternal death, premature birth, stillbirth, and neonatal abstinence syndrome –when newborn babies experience withdrawals after being exposed to drugs in the womb.
The CDC found the rates of opioid use disorder among pregnant women lowest in California and Hawaii, both of which had a growth rate of fewer than 0.1 cases per 1,000 annually. The states with the highest rates were Maine, New Mexico, Vermont, and West Virginia, which all had an opioid use disorder growth rate of more than 2.5 cases per 1,000.
Though alarming, the rising number of pregnant women hooked on opioids largely reflects the broader, general trend of opioid addiction in the U.S. and may come as little surprise to public health officials.
The opioid crisis in the U.S. started in the late 1990s, when prescription drug manufacturers assured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, prompting doctors and other qualified health care providers to prescribe the drugs at more and more frequently, often for uses that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) never approved.
Lured by handsome kickbacks and sheer greed, many physicians throughout the country wrote opioid prescriptions indiscriminately while opioid manufacturers and distributors pushed higher and higher volumes of the drugs on communities.
By the time public health authorities realized there was a problem, it was too late to stave a full-blown opioid crisis from developing. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the pattern of widespread diversion and misuse of opioids was in place before it became clear that the drugs were in fact highly addictive. As more patients received prescriptions for opioids, more people became addicted to them.
In 2015, an estimated 2 million people in the U.S. suffered from disorders related to prescription opioid abuse and more than 33,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That same year, an estimated 2 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 591,000 suffered from a disorder related to heroin use.