Drugs the Top Killer of Pregnant Women, New Moms in Utah

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Drug overdoses were the top killer of pregnant women or new mothers in Utah over a nearly decadelong span, and a new study indicates health care providers may have missed opportunities to help.

National estimates show a rising share of women use illegal drugs while pregnant. But in Utah, many women who were pregnant or new mothers and died of a drug overdose between 2005 and 2014 were not receiving any mental health or drug treatment, according to the study, published Thursday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The lack of treatment represents “a missed opportunity for potentially life-saving interventions,” researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine said.

Between 2005 and 2014, the state saw a total of 136 pregnancy-associated deaths, meaning deaths during pregnancy and up to a year afterward, whether related to the pregnancy or not. Thirty-five deaths were from drug overdoses, while blood clots and car accidents were the second- and third-most common causes of death among pregnant and postpartum women.

Of the drug-related deaths, researchers said 19 were accidental, nine were intentional and intent for the rest could not be precisely determined.

The new study comes on the heels of a federal analysis showing that an “alarmingly” high share of pregnancy-related deaths in recent years – deaths that occurs during the same time frame as pregnancy-associated deaths, but are specifically linked to being pregnant – were likely preventable. While deaths from drug overdoses, suicide and homicide were excluded from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s state-level analysis, researchers noted that state data has shown “suicides and drug overdoses to be a leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related mortality.”

In Utah, the overall pregnancy-associated death rate per 100,000 live births rose from 23.3 to 41 in between 2005 and 2014 – an increase of 76%. The rate of these deaths from drug overdose, meanwhile, surged 200%, from 3.9 to 11.7 per 100,000.

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