Overdose deaths increased in pregnant and postpartum women from early 2018 to late 2021

Among those aged 35 to 44, overdose mortality more than tripled during this period, NIH study reports

Drug overdose deaths rose markedly between January to June 2018 and July to December 2021 among 10- to 44-year-old girls and women who were pregnant or pregnant within the previous 12 months, according to a new study by researchers at National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health. Overdose mortality more than tripled among those aged 35 to 44 during the study period, from 4.9 deaths per 100,000 mothers aged 35 to 44 with a live birth in the 2018 period to 15.8 in the 2021 period. Over 60% of these pregnancy-associated overdose deaths occurred outside healthcare settings, though often in counties with available healthcare resources, such as emergency and obstetric care. Published today in JAMA Psychiatry, the findings suggest that, while treatment is available to pregnant women with substance use disorders, significant barriers — such as penalization, stigma, discrimination, and limited socioeconomic resources — may obstruct the path to care, the authors note.

“The stigma and punitive policies that burden pregnant women with substance use disorder increase overdose risk by making it harder to access life-saving treatment and resources,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., NIDA Director and senior author on the study. “Reducing barriers and the stigma that surrounds addiction can open the door for pregnant individuals to seek and receive evidence-based treatment and social support to sustain their health as well as their child’s health.”

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This page was last updated on Wednesday, November 22, 2023