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UC Research Investigates Drug-taking Pregnant Mothers

UC Research Investigates Needs of Drug-taking Pregnant Mothers
May 3, 2013
Drug-dependent pregnant women are very high-risk, with high rates of chronic physical and mental health problems including depression and hepatitis C, University of Canterbury (UC) research has found.
Women on methadone maintenance are around six times more likely to be welfare dependent and three times more likely to have no formal educational qualifications, lead research author and clinical psychologist Dr Alison Davie-Gray says.
``Nearly half of the methadone group we studied were facing pregnancy with little or no partner support, compared to a group of randomly-selected pregnant women who had 90 percent support.
``During pregnancy, more than half of the methadone group continued to use some licit and illicit drugs and nearly all were cigarette smokers; whilst in the other group, 17 percent of women reported smoking cigarettes and 22 percent reported drinking alcohol.
``Our study showed evidence of the effectiveness of methadone maintenance in reducing maternal use of illicit opiates. While, in both groups, the prevalence of significant substance use among pregnant women was of concern there was, nevertheless, an encouraging trend for substance use to reduce over the course of pregnancy,’’ Dr Davie-Gray says.
The study was carried out by UC’s Canterbury Child Development Research Group, under the leadership of Professor Lianne Woodward, in collaboration with the Canterbury District Health Board.
The research, published in the Neurotoxicology and Teratology journalinvestigated maternal psycho-social risk and drug use in 81 pregnant women, enrolled in methadone maintenance and 107 non-drug-taking women.
``Recent research indicates that in New Zealand, an estimated 10,000 adults are opiate-dependent. For these individuals, opioid substitution treatment using methadone maintenance is the treatment of choice and pregnant women are prioritised for this service. In Christchurch, typically 20 to 30 infants are born each year to women on the Christchurch methadone programme.
``Understanding the family environments of infants born to mothers experiencing problems with drug dependence is vital to improving services.
``As families with significant daily challenges, their support needs are likely to extend beyond the neonatal period.
``Specialist ante-natal and neonatal teams at Christchurch Women’s Hospital work together with the Christchurch methadone programme to assist opiate-dependent women during pregnancy and for a short time after the births of their children.
``However, longer-term targeted intervention for families is lacking. This UC study aims to address a number of important issues concerning the needs of these children and families with the broader goal of improving prevention and intervention strategies aimed at reducing risks associated with parental drug dependence,’’ Dr Davie-Gray says. 


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