A brief history of addiction during pregnancy
With more and more individuals suffering from substance abuse, especially opioids, are country is seeing an increase in a very controversial demographic, pregnant drug addicts. Though this issue is being seen more and more, our society is no stranger to it. In fact, methadone, a strong opioid, and popular substance abuse maintenance drug, has been used since the 1970s to address this issue. The thought behind it is if a woman goes into withdrawal during pregnancy, it can have adverse effects on the fetus and negatively affect the pregnancy. So, the individual is put on a steady dose of opioid drugs to prevent withdrawal and any other adulterants from that may be in illicit street drugs from affecting the fetus.
A recent study shows that completely weening a pregnant woman off drugs is entirely possible without harming the baby. If that is the case, then we are missing a huge opportunity to get individuals off drugs.
Risks and reasoning for medications
Some may argue that putting women on these drugs prevents them from relapsing on to other more dangerous opiates. They claim the baby’s health is put at risk by trying to make the mother abstinent. This may be true, but these proponents fail to understand that there is a potentially bigger risk in the form of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. When experiencing NAS, the baby goes into withdrawal after birth because the mother is on narcotics during pregnancy. This occurs in all forms of opioids and is also present with the use of synthetic opiates, like suboxone, another drug used on pregnant women.
Furthermore, the majority of women being put on these medications are coming to receive medical attention because they know they are pregnant, want to keep it, and do not want to harm the baby. Most women who get help would probably understand if the doctor’s treatment plan was to get them to stop using drugs completely. But they take the drugs they are given because they are told it is the “safest” option. Unfortunately, it appears the “safety” these medical professionals are worried about is their own.
Is standard practice the best practice?
With maintenance drugs during pregnancy being standard practice for 40 years, many medical facilities are apprehensive about changing the way they operate. The thought being, this is how it’s always been done, so if I don’t follow this and something happens, I may be liable. In some cases, women who want to come off all drugs will not be even be allowed to do so. Though this is not the case for every scenario, and some woman are able to completely get off drugs, it is not very common. It is understandable that someone on a high amount of substances may need to be on a treatment plan that consist of Medically Assisted Treatment, but as the above-mentioned study indicates, it isn’t always necessary.
Best practice in any medical field is continually evolving, so why has this one stayed the same for almost half a century? Given the research, it is time we reexamine the most effective way to treat women suffering from substance abuse while pregnant. We need to realize, the biggest victim in all of this is the newborn baby, who is forced to suffer through withdrawal symptoms. This dramatic beginning can be avoided.