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Four-fold increase in the rate of opioid-addicted pregnant women

The number of women who are hooked on opioids when they reach childbirth has dramatically increased, a new report has found.

Over 15 years, from 1999 to 2014, the rate of pregnant women suffering from opioid use disorder quadrupled, the CDC revealed on Thursday.

They found that across the 50 states, the rates were highest in Vermont and West Virginia.

Opioid use during pregnancy can result in the death of the mother or the baby, preterm birth and infant withdrawal symptoms like seizures, excessive crying and breathing problems.

The number of women who give birth while addicted to opioids quadruped between 1999 and 2015, a CDC report has revealed (file image)

In the first-of-its-kind study, the CDC used data from the US Department of Health and Human Service’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project to look at hospital discharge data.

In 1999, they found that only 1.5 of every 1,000 women going to a hospital to deliver depended on or abused opioids.

By 2014, the latest year that data is available, the rate had spiked by 333 percent to 6.5 per 1,000 women – translating to almost 25,000 deliveries nationwide that year. 

The data was only available for 30 states and the District of Columbia, but the researchers found that the highest rates were in Vermont and West Virginia.

The rate increased 97-fold in Vermont from 0.5 cases per 1,000 women in 2001 to 48.6 in 2014. In West Virginia, the increase was 53-fold from 0.6 cases in 2000 to 32.1 in 2014.

In 1999, the lowest rate was in Iowa and the highest rate was in Maryland, while in 2014, the lowest rate was in Washington, DC and the highest rate was in Vermont.

Over the 15-year period, California and Maine had the lowest average rates of increases in opioid use disorder.


Prescription opioids and illicit drugs have become incredibly pervasive throughout the US, and things are only getting worse.  

In the early 2000s, the FDA and CDC started to notice a steady increase in cases of opioid addiction and overdose. In 2013, they issued guidelines to curb addiction. 

However, that same year – now regarded as the year the epidemic took hold – a CDC report revealed an unprecedented surge in rates of opioid addiction.

Overdose deaths are now the leading cause of death among young Americans – killing more in a year than were ever killed annually by HIV, gun violence or car crashes.

Preliminary CDC data, published by the New York Times, shows that US drug overdose deaths surged 19 percent to at least 59,000 in 2016.

This is up from 52,404 in 2015, and double the death rate from a decade ago.

It means that for the first time drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old.

The data lays bare the bleak state of America’s opioid addiction crisis fueled by deadly manufactured drugs like fentanyl.

The highest average rates were found in Maine, New Mexico, Vermont and West Virginia. 

‘These findings illustrate the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on families across the US, including on the very youngest,’ said CDC Director Robert Redfield 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 report’s authors say that different polices in US states could have an impact on the state-to-state variability. 

Currently, eight states require tests for prenatal drug exposure if it’s suspected. 

In 24 states as well as in Washington, DC, health care professionals are required to report suspected use. Additionally, 23 states and DC consider substance abuse during pregnancy to be child abuse.

Because this could result in a woman being involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, the authors say pregnant women could take great measures to hide opioid use from their doctors.

Several studies have shown the devastating consequences opioid use disorder can have on both pregnant women and their babies.

According to the Mayo Clinic, opioids can cross from the mother’s blood stream to the placenta and enter the fetal central nervous system.

Complications that can be faced include preterm labor, pre-eclampsia, placental abruption, and even miscarriage.

Occasionally, babies can experience neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when the baby experiences withdrawal symptoms from drugs they were exposed to in the womb.

Stanford Children’s Heath reports that more than half of babies exposed prenatally to opiates, including heroin and methadone, have withdrawal symptoms.

The authors also said that the variation could be a result of the differing rates by which doctors prescribe opioids in different states. 

According to the CDC’s most recent available data, doctors in West Virginia wrote an average of 98.6 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in 2016, which could mean higher rates of pregnant women who are also prescribed opioids.

In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, which includes illicit drugs and prescription opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

According to an analysis released in February, the growing opioid epidemic has cost the US more than $1 trillion from 2001 through 2017.

Around the same time, the US Senate announced it had allotted $6 billion for the opioid epidemic over a two-year period.

Last October, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and the federal government is expected to spend a record $4.6 billion this year to fight the opioid crisis.


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