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Study: Opioid-addicted mothers share many risk factors

Childhood trauma, losing custody among reasons cited for opioid overdoses, deaths

SAN ANTONIOPreliminary findings by the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing show opioid-addicted women have many of the same risk factors for drug overdoses and deaths.

“Little has been known about the context surrounding opioid use or overdose among pregnant or parenting women,” said the study’s lead author and pediatric nurse practitioner Lisa Cleveland, Ph.D.

She said, "We wanted to better understand what contributes to these deaths so we can identify women at risk and develop interventions to prevent these deaths."

The two-year statewide study was done by nurse researchers at UT Health San Antonio.

Cleveland said the Texas Department of State Health Services asked them to investigate after a special task force in 2016 found the leading cause of maternal mortalities were overdoses.

Yet Texas wasn't alone.

Cleveland said nationally, another report found maternal overdoses and deaths had doubled in the U.S. between 2007-2016.

"We were shocked. We were really shocked," Cleveland said.

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She said the latest findings show the common risk factors for deaths and overdoses include childhood trauma such as physical and sexual abuse, the suicide or murder of a parent, routine drug use at home, and little or no emotional support.

But she said losing custody of their children is also a leading cause of overdoses, especially if they're in recovery.

Cleveland said researchers found, “They just said, ‘You know what? What’s the point? Now my kids are gone.’”

“I think to me that really lends itself to policy advocacy,” Cleveland said. “What is it we can do to improve the way we’re doing things so that we’re not putting women’s lives at risk and we’re not separating families, if it all possible?”

She said the study will also help in developing a diagnostic tool in hopes of saving the lives of the mothers and their babies who often undergo painful drug withdrawals.

Cleveland said, “We want to develop a screening questionnaire that will be able to predict a woman at risk so that we can refer her to needed services.”

MORE: New funding could provide free medicine and doctor’s visits for opioid-addicted patients


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