According to a recent study, drug overdose mortality among women who are pregnant or just gave birth have climbed by more than 180% over the previous five years.
Publication Of Pediatrics, a journal, published the report. The investigation also showed that the number of overdose fatalities linked to pregnancy increased sharply in 2020, perhaps as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on social, economic, and healthcare systems.
“We’ve seen significant increases in fatal and nonfatal overdose in the general population during the pandemic,” said Emilie Bruzelius, MPH, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School and first author. “It now appears that pregnant and postpartum women are being affected as well.”
Data from national death certificates, which contain information on whether the death happened among a person who was presently or recently pregnant, were used to identify pregnancy-related overdose fatalities between 2017 and 2020. The researchers assessed the particular drug types used in each overdose and computed yearly overdose fatality rates.
The researchers also computed the total overdose fatality rates for women of reproductive age as a reference (who were not pregnant). 1,249 of the 7,642 pregnancy-related fatalities among expectant and postpartum women were brought on by drug overdose. In contrast to a 38% increase among women of reproductive age overall, overdose mortality surged more than 80% over the course of the four years, reaching a peak of 11.85 deaths per 100,000 in 2020. Rises in overdose mortality for both groups in 2020 were more marked than increases in any previous year before.
Contrary to significant rises in mortality related to fentanyl, methamphetamines, and cocaine, pregnancy-associated overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines, heroin, and prescription opioids remained mostly steady between 2017 and 2020. The number of fatalities involving fentanyl increased significantly in 2020, nearly tripling.
“Pregnant and postpartum people are known to face barriers to accessing drug treatment and harm reduction services, that when compounded by pandemic-associated stressors, healthcare shutdowns, and an increasingly volatile unregulated drug supply, may have increased fatal overdose risk,” said Bruzelius.
“Enhanced strategies supporting substance use prevention, treatment, and harm reduction efforts among pregnant and postpartum people are critical and much needed. We expect new and improved approaches will help address the concerning trends we are seeing,” noted Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology and senior author.