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July 22, 2019

Death Rates of Pregnant Colorado Women are Climbing Due To Substance Abuse


America has long since been known to be one of the world’s leaders in the healthcare industry. Despite the insane costs of healthcare and health insurance, we are known to be a country that fuels innovation, finds new answers, and saves lives. Birth rates in the US have long been backed by healthy statistics and positive life expectancies. 

That is, until the last few years. 

Over the last decade, the number of deaths of pregnant or new mothers has begun to rise in the state of Colorado, as well as several other US states. Among the leading culprits of this upswing in maternal death rates, suicide and overdose have quickly climbed to the top of the list. 

The question is, where did this come from, and who is working to stop it? 

The Rise

It seems strange that this topic isn’t receiving more attention, but has become somewhat of a subset of the opioid and mental health epidemic that is currently ravaging Americans. Strictly speaking about mental health and substance abuse rates, It has become very clear that America is one of the most medicated populations in the world.

Data indicates that around half of the population takes at least one prescription drug every day. Many of these drugs revolve around managing mood or mental disorders, but many of them can have the power to lead to addiction. Some of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S. are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Disordered Eating 
  • Bipolar
  • Attention Deficit

Among this population, is hundreds of thousands of pregnant women. Women who struggle with addiction, or who experience postpartum depression just like any other citizen, but have less resources to get quality help. 

Although yes, there are thousands of substance abuse and mental health facilities around the country that are working to provide assistance to people struggling with addictions and mental health disorders. Of that number of facilities, only a very small fraction of them welcome or are focused on pregnant women and women with infants. 

A committee in Colorado has been examining the numbers of maternal deaths, defined as a death during pregnancy or up to one year afterwards. They studied 145 maternal deaths that occurred between 2008 and 2013:

  • maternal deaths rose from 24.3 per 100,000 to 46.2
  • Maternal death rates due to mental health rose from 0 to 10.8

opiate epidemic

Through their research, they discovered that nearly 80% of all the maternal death cases they studied could have been prevented through better healthcare before, during, and after birth, and access to mental health and substance abuse treatment

Another study performed through the University of Colorado between the years 2004 and 2012

Showed that out of 211 maternal deaths, 37 died by overdose, and 26 died by suicide. 

Out of these 37 overdose deaths, 14 of them were caused by recreational drugs, 4 from prescription drugs, and 16 were from both. 

In the “big picture” of overdose and mental health-related deaths, this might not strike people as a lot. Take into consideration, if 145 pregnant or new mothers died between 2008 and 2013, that is two women, per month, in the state of Colorado ALONE. Not to mention how common this is in other states around the country. 

It can be easy to point the finger at the opioid epidemic alone, but that same committee who performed the 2008-13 study has linked other factors to be responsible for these tragic and untimely deaths. 

The Committee

The committee previously mentioned is Colorado’s Maternal-Mortality review, who has been meeting since 1993, but was officialized this year. While the branch is still in their infancy, they will be tracking data and reporting back to lawmakers on their findings, to help stop the increasing numbers of maternal death rates. 

The purpose of the committee is to find holes in the healthcare system, and improve them for the betterment of these women. At each meeting they hold, they begin the meeting with a moment of silence for the women and children who have lost their lives in the reports they are investigating. 

The main objective of the committee is to answer two these two questions ;

  • Was the death related to pregnancy (bleeding, hypertension, etc.)?
  • Could it have been prevented?

The Homefront

Colorado lawmakers are also aiming towards filling the gap for pregnant women in the substance abuse and mental health treatment field. 

First and foremost, a law was passed that would create access for women with children to receive substance abuse treatment that will provide childcare. There are a few facilities in the state that do offer mothers to bring their children with them, but they don’t provide day time childcare, so the mothers have to balance trying to get sober and work through trauma, all the while with their child on their lap or playing in the room. 

The funding for opening childcare in substance abuse and mental health facilities will come from unspent Medicare funds.

The state will also be moving forward with a fusion of reproductive services at methadone clinics. The clinics will be providing access to contraceptives such as birth control, as well as offering prenatal care to patients who are pregnant. 

As Colorado has always been known to be a progressive state, lawmakers are now working towards overturning a law that is still used in many other states, the bed cap law. Dating back to the 1950’s, this law states that any mental health rehabilitation center cannot allow more than 16 beds per facility. Local lawmakers are hoping to up the bed cap to further access not only to more women with infants, but also women with older children. 

It is clear that Colorado is making great strides in protecting their communities, with a goal set on eradicating this problem for the future.