An Issue of Substance Abuse and Pregnancy

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Substance Abuse and Pregnancy

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a drug withdrawal syndrome that presents in newborns after birth when transfer of harmful substances from the mother to the fetus abruptly stops at the time of delivery (NAS TASK FORCE MEMBERS, 2017).  NAS is a result of mothers who use opioids, benzodiazepines and alcohol. Mothers who look for help to save their babies and mothers who do not look for help. In Indiana there are hundreds of babies who are born from a mother who is or was addicted to drugs and used while they were pregnant. Some of these women are on legal opioids yet still give birth to NAS babies. These babies have a wide range of symptoms that last weeks and sometimes years after birth. The problem is helping these women before they get pregnant. In 2016 there were 83,063 births in Madison County, out of those, 5,876 were from teens (Health, 2017).

Throughout history men and women have always been treated differently. Men are looked at with more forgiving eyes and women are shamed. When it comes to addictions it is a fact that women and mothers are treated dreadfully, and men get praised in some cases or just a slap on the wrist. Mothers who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have to not only overcome their addictions, they also have the added stress from having their children taken away from them. Then prosecutors start charging them with criminal acts (Buck, 2017). These mothers really do not have a fair chance. In most cases, the legal system ignores the fact they are mothers and that some are very young who were not taught and shown how to be a parent let alone be a clean and sobor parent.

In the early years women were in charge of teaching their daughters to be a home maker, wife and mother. Throughout the years this has been slowly lost from generation to generation. Women are now working just as hard as men, if not harder and some feel it is not important to teach their children the importance of sobriety and motherhood. Most of these women already come from poor families and all they know is what they see in their homes and in their neighborhoods. What does this mean? Simply put, parents ate the mirror for the child.

 The mother gazes at the baby in her arms and the baby gazes at his mother's face and in the process finds himself therein (Miller, 2017).

When children grow up in bad neighborhoods where there is nothing but illicit drug activities, then chances are that the child is only going to know that drug activity and illegal lifestyle that comes with it. This is our mirrors, and the reflections are not good.

In 2017, drug use among teens have decreased but there is still so many who need help. According to a report from a recovery center website, eighth grade teens went from 13.1% in 1996 to 5.8% in 2017, tenth grade was 18.4% in 1996 to 9.4% in 2017 and finally twelfth grade teens were 21.6% in 2001 to 13.3% in 2017 (The Recovery Village, n.d.). Yes, these numbers look good because they have decreased, yet this is not figuring in marijuana use and the number of those who have not been reported in these figures.  Nor do these figures include the legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. We need to get these numbers to less than 1% or zero. The fact is that the United States released a report that states over 320,000 babies are born exposed to alcohol and illicit drugs while in the uterus; a far larger number have been exposed, in utero to sedatives and nicotine each year (The Gale Group Inc., 2001). They continue to say that the recognition of these babies parallels the dramatic increase in the drug use by women since the 1970s (The Gale Group Inc., 2001). This is not just alcohol and tobacco, it is all drugs licit and illicit. Every year it seems that more and more babies are being delivered going through withdrawal symptoms from these drugs.

The mothers are of varying age, ethnicity, and financial status. The predictions for how many babies will be born with NAS are unknown. The state Department of Health just recently started trying to determine the extent of the perinatal drug use in Indiana (Bruce, 2017). This started in 2016 and only scored four hospitals because they had rates of twice the national average,  (Bruce, 2017) at the time of this article it has expanded to twenty-six hospitals in Indiana. As of February 2018, Indiana University launched Phase One projects for statewide addictions initiative (Indiana University, 2018). In Bloomington Indiana the IU school of Nursing Dean and Distinguished Professor Tobin Newhouse announced the Phase One projects of the Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenges initiative (Indiana University, 2018). In this initiative Newhouse explains how there will be 16 projects that will expand the states ability to identify and treat addiction to creating a database on opioid use. "We've seen a steady increase in NAS over the past five years, yet we don't know how effective we are at treating mothers and their babies with this condition," said Indiana University School of Medicine associate professor Sarah Wiehe. Wiehe is going to focus her research to see how to improve the health of the mothers and NAS babies (Indiana University, 2018).  Not all NAS babies are from illicit drug use.

There are some cases that involve mothers who are on prescription pain management who also give birth to these babies. These women and girls do not purposely take harmful drugs while pregnant. They are in real pain for one reason or another such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and other medical conditions that cause chronic pain. In a class on Problems with Substance Abuse, a video from YouTube was part of the assignment. The name of this video is When I use, We both Lose that was published by the user going by Prevent Child Abuse. It talks about both illicit and licit drug use and the effects on these newborn babies. Some of the information is well known, however there is a cause for alarm as they explained that pain management physicians and their offices were not telling these mothers that the pain medications would cause their babies harm if used on a daily basis (Prevent Child Abuse , 2013).  Is this practice still happening in 2018? This answer has been elusive at this point.

In conclusion Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a serious problem and needs to be controlled. Some of the issues are too many women and young girls using drugs and other substance that will harm them and their unborn child. There needs to be better education for the young women who are still in school. Try to get them to understand that drugs are not healthy, and they can have better lives without them. Also that if they have to be on prescription medications, learn how to use them wisely and check for interactions and precautions. If these are not accessible, they should ask without fear. Health insurance companies call specific patients (ex. Diabetics, cancer and so forth) to check on them and get updates as their current medication regiment. Women and young girls usually see doctors and have medical insurance, whether it is state or private. These companies are already making these calls for those who are ill, why not for those about to give new life.

My hopes is to work with addictions and young people, either separate or apart. I would enjoy teaching a class or two for young teen girls or boys the importance of abstaining while pregnant. I have a couple of family members who have lost their way to drugs and my husband has lost a brother. I have always been interested in helping and as I got older this has not changed but it has become more focused. 


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  2. Buck, S. (2017, Jan 5). History was not kind to drug-addicted mothers, but that started to change in the 1980s. Retrieved from Timeline:
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  10. The Gale Group Inc. (2001). Addicted Babies. Retrieved from Encyclopedia:
  11. The Recovery Village. (n.d.). Teen Drug Abuse Statistics & Facts. Retrieved from The Recovery Village:
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An Issue Of Substance Abuse and Pregnancy. (2019, Nov 13). Retrieved February 22, 2024 , from

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