The number of drug overdose deaths among pregnant women has almost tripled in five years, a study suggests.
A record 427 mothers-to-be died after overdosing in 2020, representing a 180 percent increase from 2017, according to researchers.
The team from Columbia University in New York City analyzed nearly 8,000 all-cause pregnancy deaths between 2017 and 2020.
Of these, 1,249 (16 percent) were attributed to a drug overdose. The rise was fueled by Fentanyl, but also by the large rise in overdose deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine.
Overdose deaths have risen across the board – especially in the wake of the Covid pandemic – as America grapples with the drug epidemic, but there are now early signs that it may be slowing down.
Overdose deaths among pregnant women and recent mothers hit an all-time high, 2020 data shows (file photo)
Emilie Bruzelius, a PhD student who led the research, warned that the overdose epidemic is spreading to pregnant women.
She said the closure has contributed to the rise as more mothers-to-be are cooped up indoors and unable to access health care, undermining their mental health.
The team from the Mailman School of Public Health published their analysis as a research letter in the journal today JAMA network.
They looked at data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), the database that records all fatalities in the United States.
Researchers looked for overdose deaths involving pregnant women, or those who had given birth within eight weeks.
Overdose deaths among expectant or recent mothers rose the fastest in 2020, when they rose 45 percent from 304 in the previous year.
By comparison, the number of fatalities increased by six percent over the year to 2018 and 14 percent over the year to 2019.
The graph above shows the death rate due to overdoses among pregnant women (dark blue) and those who are early postpartum (orange) and late postpartum (blue)
The above shows pregnancy-related overdose deaths by year and type
Is America FINALLY winning the war on drugs?
Drug overdose deaths could finally drop in the US for the first time since the start of the Covid pandemic.
Preliminary data shows that there were an estimated 107,600 fatalities in the year to June 2022, the latest available, 40 fewer than the number in calendar year 2021.
Officials hailed the early numbers as “hopeful” and praised the wider availability of naloxone, a drug that treats opioid overdoses – America’s number one killer.
However, some experts said the drop was simply due to deaths returning to pre-pandemic levels. Overdoses spiked to record highs during Covid.
It comes as scientists develop a vaccine to completely block the effects of fentanyl, a synthetic and extremely potent opioid that kills about 200 Americans a day.
Commenting on the figures, Ms Bruzelius said: “We have seen a significant increase in fatal and non-fatal overdoses in the general population during the pandemic.
“It now appears that pregnant and postpartum women are also affected.”
She added: ‘Pregnant and postpartum people are known to experience barriers to accessing drug treatment and harm reduction services.
“When compounded by pandemic stressors, health care closures and an increasingly volatile unregulated drug supply, it could increase the risk of fatal overdose.”
She called for more health care services for pregnant women or new mothers, including more appointments for those at risk and ensuring that the overdose-fighting drug Naloxone is available to them.
The study also looked at fatalities by type of overdose.
It found that those prescribed for benzodiazepines — or antidepressants — opioids and heroin remained stable for pregnant women during the study.
But the number of deaths from fentanyl and psychostimulants such as cocaine rose during the study period.
The number of fentanyl deaths rose from 5.73 per 100,000 pregnant women in 2017 to 9.47 in 2020 – or a 65 percent increase in four years.
It was not clear whether the deaths were accidental or the result of suicide.
The paper also included an analysis of overdose deaths among all women of childbearing age, between 15 and 44 years old.
A total of 40,578 overdose deaths were recorded, the authors said.
Annually, overdose deaths rose from 9,191 in 2017 to 12,756 in 2020 — or a 37 percent increase.
The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
America faces about 107,000 drug overdose deaths each year after the epidemic took off during the Covid pandemic.
But there is now early hope that the epidemic may have reached its peak.