The number of pregnant women that abuse opioids, a type of drug that alleviates pain, has increased greatly in the past twenty years. This has resulted in more infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition when infants have withdrawal symptoms. In 2012, every 25 minutes an infant was born in the U.S. with this syndrome.
As opioid abuse in the U.S. continues to get worse, more states have approved criminal prosecution laws against pregnant women with problems with substance abuse.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement online Feb. 20 in Pediatrics advising a public health response instead of punishing these women.
“Pregnant women must be able to discuss their substance use openly with their medical providers without fear of punishment,” said co-author Davida M. Schiff. “Punitive policies towards pregnant women with substance use disorder are detrimental to the health of mother and baby.”
The Academy recommends measures such as substance treatment programs for pregnant women, more funding for social services and child welfare, routine screening for alcohol and drug use in women of childbearing age and opioid-replacement therapy.