The number of pregnant women dying from opioid related deaths has nearly doubled over the past decade, according to the findings of a new study that further highlight the far-reaching impact of the nationwide opioid epidemic that has hit the United States.
In findings published this month in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers from Stony Brook University in New York indicate that more pregnant women and women who have recently given birth are dying from deaths involving opioids, with a large majority of the deaths involving synthetic opioids.
Researchers used data from death certificates and live birth data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System from 2007 to 2016 for women aged 15 to 49 in 22 states and Washington D.C., evaluating outcomes during and up to one year after pregnancy.
During this time period, overall pregnancy-related deaths increased 34% and pregnancy-related deaths involving opioids more than doubled. More than 80% of the opioid related deaths involved heroin or synthetic opioids, like fentanyl. Deaths involving fentanyl increased by 20% since 2007.
Similarly, the number of babies suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome because of opioid use during pregnancy increased during that time as well.
The majority of the deaths, more than 70%, occurred while the woman was pregnant or in the 42 days after delivering the baby. Researchers indicate this highlights the need for treatments to focus on depression during pregnancy and postpartum.
The increases in deaths related to opioids were most pronounced for white women, despite black and Hispanic women being disproportionately affected by higher maternal death rates.
The U.S, has seen increases in both pregnancy-associated deaths as well as opioid-associated deaths during the past 15 years. Opioid related deaths began to rise accounting for two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths in the United States by 2016 and later surging to involve 70% of all overdose deaths from 2016 to 2017.
Despite the increase in deaths, little is known how opioids contribute to pregnancy associated deaths. Researchers say the new data highlights the urgent need for interventions for pregnant and postpartum women.
In many situations, pregnant women are afraid to disclose addiction for fear of child abuse and neglect investigations and possible criminal prosecution. Postpartum women also have the same fears. This is where doctors and health care providers who see pregnant and postpartum women frequently can implement interventions that may help prevent opioid deaths among these women.