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Too Many Pregnant Women in Indiana Use Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs

Too Many Pregnant Women in Indiana Use Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs
© Photo Credit: Malias
Researchers at the University of Indiana say that roughly 10% of Hoosier women drink, 5% drug and 20% smoke their way through pregnancy.

Roughly 18 000 infants will start life in Indiana this year born to mothers who smoked cigarettes through pregnancy. About 10% of moms-to-be in Indiana will drink alcohol during pregnancy and a further 5% of pregnant women will use illicit drugs; rates of alcohol and drug use that are amongst the highest in the nation and that put 15 000 Indiana newborns at risk of birth defects and developmental complications.

Disturbingly, although smoking rates by pregnant women are on a slow decline, alcohol and drug use rates by pregnant women are increasing.

The researchers came up with these prevalence numbers through methods that included an examination of existing data, focus groups with pregnant women and interviews with treatment providers.

  • The use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs leads all other causes in preventable birth defects
  • Alcohol use by pregnant women is the leading cause of mental retardation in America
  • Only between 5 and 10% pregnant substance abusing women needing treatment get the help they need.

The researchers say that the negative stigma associated with being a pregnant substance abuser prevents many women from coming forward to get help. They urge treatment providers to treat these women with compassion and respect and to provide confidential care that integrates comprehensive social, psychological and medical support.

The researchers do not agree with punitive methods, writing, "Most importantly, we need to address the stigma and stop thinking about criminalizing – the answer is not to threaten them with jail time. It is very easy to jump to the conclusion that jail time will work as a deterrent, but this is very counter productive. They need to seek help for their addiction – not go to jail…Stop the jail talk."

They also say that far more funding is needed to implement the kinds of treatment programs required to serve this population of women. 

The Indiana Perinatal Organization, out of Indiana University, has responded to an obvious need for intervention by developing a guidelines package for healthcare workers.


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