AHRQ Views

Blog posts from AHRQ leaders

You may have recently heard that the Obama Administration is working aggressively to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic. A new analysis from AHRQ highlights a seldom-discussed element of the problem: From 2006 to 2012, the number of maternal hospital stays related to opioid use more than doubled from 9,500 in 2006 to over 20,000 in 2012.

Substance use during pregnancy can have serious effects on the health of both mother and child. Newborns exposed to drugs in the womb may display withdrawal symptoms within hours after birth. Problems may include trouble feeding, seizures, sleep problems, and slow weight gain. Drug use during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects, fetal growth restriction, low birth weight, premature birth, and abnormal neurodevelopment.

Between 2006 and 2012, the rate of neonatal hospital stays related to substance use increased by 71 percent, from 5.1 to 8.7 per 1,000 neonatal stays, or from just under 20,000 babies to more than 30,000 babies born with a substance use related problem. In 2012, nearly one-fourth of maternal stays related to substance use involved opiates.

Not surprisingly, the financial toll is significant, although I emphasize that the main cost of substance abuse problems is not financial, but rather the effects on the health of moms, and, especially, their infants. Between 2006 and 2012, the cost of neonatal hospital stays related to substance abuse increased by 35 percent, from $253 million to $595 million. In 2012, the combined cost of substance-related neonatal and maternal stays was $944 million. Neonatal stays related to substance use were more likely than other neonatal stays to occur among patients from low-income communities, as well as from less urban areas, in 2012. Nearly 80 percent of neonatal stays related to substance use were paid by Medicaid.

The news is not all bad, though. The rate of neonatal and maternal stays related to cocaine decreased significantly between 2006 and 2012—a 60 percent decrease in neonatal stays and a 50 percent decrease in maternal stays. While we’re making progress regarding expectant mothers’ use of cocaine, the data show that we still have a long way to go in other areas. That is why President Obama, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, and others within HHS are tackling substance abuse from numerous angles.

Many of our HHS sister agencies support programs designed to reduce the abuse of opioids and other dangerous drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), for example, offers myriad ways to get help with substance abuse, especially among those who are experiencing a mental disorder as well. SAMHSA plays a central role in the HHS initiative launched earlier this summer to combat opioid use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, provides opportunities for health researchers to advance the science on substance abuse as well as for health providers to find local resources on substance use.

We at AHRQ understand the importance of collecting and analyzing data related to substance abuse. The numbers in our recent statistical brief provide sobering and upsetting measures of a longstanding—and in the case of opioids, expanding—national crisis. The statistics speak to the tragic impacts of substance abuse on infants, mothers, and families. Measuring the scope and trends of these problems is essential to tackling the challenges and understanding where our efforts to solve the problem are successful and where more or different efforts are needed. To learn more, please check out our recent statistical brief.

Page last reviewed September 2015
Page originally created September 2015
Internet Citation: Opioids Take Increasing Toll on Mothers and Newborns. Content last reviewed September 2015. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/blog/ahrqviews/091115.html