New Mothers Affected by Postpartum Depression and Opioid Addiction

The Opioid Epidemic continues to devastate the lives of many, and new sources reveal expecting mothers are also victims of the addiction and overdose crisis. They may often go unaccounted for in the calculation of national statistics, according to a University of Utah Health study. The study informs readers that “drug-induced death is the most common cause of pregnancy-associated death” in the state. Like any addiction, mothers with a history of chemical abuse or dependency are at greater risk for an overdose.

Much of this research emerged after studies examined mothers who were vulnerable to substance abuse. Results revealed mothers who endured postpartum depression were more apt to misuse Opioids and, subsequently, overdose. Other data showed that deaths involving drugs were the “leading cause of death for Utah women.” More than three-quarters of pregnancy deaths involved Opioid; 80% were in the late postpartum phase, when most mothers have completed their final checkup.

Mothers who tapered or discontinued use of prescription Opioids during pregnancy are even more likely to relapse during what is known as the “fourth trimester”. Once a child is born, many mothers with a history of addiction return to drug abuse – with a lowered tolerance that can lead to an accidental overdose.

Many Opioid-related postpartum deaths are influenced by several factors: insomnia, postpartum depression, physical pain, and stress. On top of these mental and physical symptoms, mothers must face a changing lifestyle and changes in hormones. Childbirth and raising a new child takes a toll on the body and mind. In response to this, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considered extending postpartum checkups from 6 weeks to later in the fourth trimester.

Post-Labor Pain Can Trigger Postpartum Opioid Misuse

The Utah team of researchers examined approximately 136 deaths involving pregnancies, 26% of these cases had a direct connection to drugs. Of those deaths, 77% were a result of Opioid abuse. Interestingly, 42% of expectant Utah mothers with Medicaid received prescription Opioids for chronic pain associated with pregnancy – Opioid dependence often begins with pain relief medication. Many women included in the study were not screened for Opioid addiction at any point in their pregnancy.

The mortality rates for new moms compared to mortality rates for women in the general population who died of drug use were not too far apart.

Other studies have revealed that 57% of women who died from drug use died at home. Conversely, 63% of new mothers who died due to drug abuse died at the hospital. Researchers aim to educate the public of such concerns while hoping to reduce Opioid-related deaths for mothers. Strategies like preparing literature to better achieve this goal can be an example of an attempt to reduce Opioid-related deaths.

Author: Krystina Murray – Last Edited: June 24, 2021


University of Utah Health. (2019). University of Utah. Opioids: Leading Cause of Pregnancy-Related Death In New Utah Moms. Retrieved on May 29, 2019 from