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Home > Research Articles > Most Moms-to-Be who use drugs don't disclose it

Keith Mulvihill, Reuters Health

Monday, April 8, 2002

MOST MOMS-TO-BE WHO USE DRUGS DON'T DISCLOSE IT NEW YORK ( Reuters Health ) - Relying on mothers-to-be to voluntarily disclose substance use will not identify most women who use drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, researchers say. As many as 70% of women who use drugs while pregnant will not reveal this information, according to study findings presented this week at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. During prenatal exams, women are often asked to fill out questionnaires addressing lifestyle habits, including the use of drugs of abuse such as alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, Dr. Beth Malizia of the University of Alabama in Birmingham explained in an interview with Reuters Health. "Not only are these preliminary exams a great time to educate women about healthier choices for themselves and their developing baby, ( but during this time ) women tend to be much more open to the idea of seeking treatment for drug or alcohol problems they may be experiencing," she said. In the study, Malizia and colleagues reviewed questionnaires and conducted hair and urine tests on 1,644 women who received pre- and post-natal care. As study volunteers, all of the women consented to the tests. Ordinarily, drug screening done without consent is illegal unless a pregnant woman enters an emergency care facility displaying obvious signs of drug use, Malizia explained. The researchers report that 226 of the women either revealed drug or alcohol use in their questionnaire or tested positive for alcohol or drugs from the first 3 months prior to pregnancy through the time they delivered their baby. While the majority of the women ( 172 ) tested positive for only one drug, 54 were positive for more than one. The report indicates that "7 were positive for alcohol, 108 for marijuana, 47 for cocaine and 32 for 'other' drug use." When the researchers went back and compared the laboratory test results to the voluntary disclosures, they found that only 71% of the alcohol use, 39% of the cocaine use and 27% of the marijuana use was identified in the questionnaires. "This resulted in a total of 30% of substance use being identified in the conduct of routine care," Malizia told Reuters Health. "New techniques are needed, like more explicit forms or interviews, to improve the identification rates of drug use in pregnant women," she concluded.