Substance use linked to deaths of 3 in 10 pregnant & new mothers in Michigan

LANSING, Mich. – New research sheds light on the devastating effects of substance abuse on pregnant and new moms. According to a new report by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, three in ten deaths of pregnant or postpartum women in Michigan over a five year period ending in 2020 were from substance use. Not only is substance use disorder (SUD) the number one cause of death during pregnancy, but it’s also more than homicide, suicide and car crashes combined. 

Dawn Shanafelt, the director of the Michigan Health Department Maternal and Infant Health Division, told Bridge Michigan that many women with SUD try to quit when they become pregnant, but the stress of motherhood takes a toll.

“Once a baby’s born — and this is for all people across the board, whether someone’s in recovery or not — that’s an extremely stressful time,” Shanafelt told Bridge Michigan.

In light of the report, the state released a series of recommendations, including an initiative to address pregnancy and its intersection with mental health and substance use.

This research follows a national report revealing drug overdose deaths among pregnant and postpartum women have skyrocketed. Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that the ratio of overdose deaths more than tripled in pregnant and postpartum women ages 35 to 44 between 2018 and 2021. The majority of the deaths involved opioids, most notably fentanyl.

“Stigmatizing and penalizing women with substance use disorders makes it very hard for them to seek help for drug use and receive routine prenatal care,” said Emily Einstein, Ph.D., NIDA Science Policy Branch Chief and study co-author.