Drug overdose deaths among pregnant women have nearly tripled in five years, a study suggests.
A record 427 expectant mothers died after overdosing in 2020, which represented a 180 percent increase on 2017 researchers said.
The team at Columbia University in New York City analyzed nearly 8,000 pregnancy deaths between 2017 and 2020 from all causes.
Of these, 1,249 (16 percent) were attributed to drug overdoses. The rise was fueled by Fentanyl, but also big rises in the number of overdose deaths from methamphetamines and cocaine.
Overdose deaths have risen across the board — particularly 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 have hit a record high, data from 2020 shows (file photo)
Emilie Bruzelius, a doctoral student who led the research, warned the overdose epidemic was spilling over into pregnant women.
She said the shutdown contributed to the rise by leaving more expectant mothers cooped up inside and unable to access healthcare, taking a toll on their mental health.
The team from the Mailman School of Public Health published their analysis today as a research letter in the journal 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 fatalities involving pregnant women, or those who had given birth within eight weeks.
Overdose deaths among expectant or recent mothers surged fastest in 2020, when they rose 45 percent from 304 in the previous year.
For comparison, fatalities rose six percent over the year to 2018 and 14 percent over the year to 2019.
The above graph shows the death rate from overdoses among pregnant women (dark blue), and those who are early postpartum (orange) and late postpartum (blue)
The above shows pregnancy-associated overdose deaths by year and type
Is America FINALLY winning the war on drugs?
Drug overdose deaths may finally be plateauing across the US for the first time since the Covid pandemic began.
Preliminary data shows there were 107,600 fatalities estimated in the year to June 2022, the latest available, 40 fewer than the tally in the 2021 calendar year.
Officials heralded the early figures as ‘hopeful’ and praised the wider availability of Naloxone, a drug that treats overdoses from opioids — America’s biggest 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 totally block the effects of fentanyl, a synthetic and extremely potent opioid that kills roughly 200 Americans a day.
Commenting on the figures, Ms Bruzelius said: ‘We’ve seen significant increases in fatal and nonfatal overdose in the general population during the pandemic.
‘It now appears that pregnant and postpartum women are also being affected.’
She added: ‘Pregnant and postpartum people are known to face barriers to accessing drug treatment and harm reduction services.
‘When compounded by pandemic-associated stressors, healthcare shutdowns, and an increasingly volatile unregulated drug supply, may have increased fatal overdose risk.’
She called for more healthcare provisions for pregnant women or new mothers, including more appointments for those at risk and ensuring the overdose-combatting drug Naloxone is available for them.
The study also looked at fatalities by overdose types.
It found that those for benzodiazepines — or antidepressants — prescription opioids and heroin remained steady for pregnant women throughout the study.
But fatalities due to fentanyl and psychostimulants such as cocaine rose during the study period.
Fentanyl deaths rose from 5.73 per 100,000 pregnant women in 2017 to 9.47 in 2020 — or a rise of 65 percent in four years.
It was not clear whether deaths were accidental or due to suicide.
The paper also included an analysis of overdose deaths among all women of reproductive 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 uptick.
The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
America faces about 107,000 fatalities from drug overdoses every year, after the epidemic took off during the Covid pandemic.
But early hopes are now being raised that the epidemic may have begun to peak.