In a study conducted in 2018, researchers found opioid overdose rates declined as women progressed through pregnancy, but increased significantly after giving birth. A follow-up study conducted in 2019 discovered that there are several risk factors associated with this trend of a postpartum opioid overdose.

The Risk Factors

The risk factors of postpartum opioid overdose among women with a diagnosis of opioid use disorder (OUD) include:

  • A history of overdose during pregnancy
  • Neonatal opioid withdrawal
  • Higher than average use of emergency care in the year before delivery

The risk factors of postpartum opioid overdose among women without an OUD diagnosis include:

  • Being Caucasian, or non-Hispanic
  • Being unmarried
  • Delivering the baby by C-section
  • Having public insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid
  • Involvement in publicly funded treatment programs for addiction
  • Incarceration
  • Premature birth or low-birth-weight

Over half of the mothers who experienced an opioid overdose after delivery were not previously diagnosed with OUD while pregnant. This finding suggests that we are not screening women for OUD during pregnancy, or that mothers are scared of disclosing their substance use disorder, or that they began using substances after giving birth. Sadly, the postpartum period for mothers is a vulnerable and challenging time. It is very important that their health needs remain a priority.

Implementing screening for OUD and other substance use disorders should be a priority service among doctors, pediatricians, and any other providers who work directly with postpartum women and their families (much in the same way that doctors perform screening for postpartum mood disorders). Furthermore, supporting families and providing additional resources during pregnancy is also critical for identifying potential substance use disorders. The opioid epidemic is pervasive in our society and is, unfortunately, impacting the health of mothers, their babies, and their families.

Need Help?

Multiple factors contribute to a postpartum overdose of opioids. Gaining a deeper understanding of the risk factors and understanding of the opioid crisis will help to further research, and therefore, expand resources to battle this crisis. Addiction to drugs or alcohol not only affects the person using the substances, as it affects everyone around them, including their families, friends, and unborn children. If you are struggling with an addiction to opioids, alcohol, or other drugs, you are not alone, and there is hope for a better future. At Fort Worth Recovery, we understand the complex and individualized needs of those battling addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 844.332.1807 or visit us online.


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