Heroin Abuse During Pregnancy

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12 April, 2018

Heroin is one of the well-known Opioid drugs. It is a synthetic illicit drug made from Morphine, a naturally existing opioid that can be obtained from seedpods of a variety of opium poppy plants. These opioid drugs are commonly used for their potential of relieving and inducing a euphoric effect to calm the suffering of a patient. However, these drugs have an immense potential for developing dependence and addiction in their users.

Just like any other opioid, Heroin is also a highly addictive drug and despite its negative reputation for harmful consequences, heroin is still maintaining the position of being one of the most commonly abused recreational drug in the United States and perhaps, all over the world too.

It is available in various forms including brown or whitish powder, solid black chunks, and a black sticky substance (tar-like heroin). According to the form it is available in, heroin can be snorted, smoked, or injected for its use.

Side effects of this drug include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Constricted pupils
  • Temperature instability
  • Droopy appearance
  • Depressed breathing
  • Bluish (cyanotic) extremities

Unfortunately, heroin abuse is not limited only to the general population. It is being abused by the pregnant women also that can very easily harm them and create multiple problems for them.

According to a National Survey done in the U.S on Drug Use and Health report in 2015, around 333,000 people were reported to have used heroin in the past month. This also included women of childbearing age and approximately 79,000 women who were aged between 15-44 in the U.S, reported using heroin in the past month.

The use of heroin during pregnancy is a serious public health issue that can bring drastic outcomes to the babies and to the mothers as well. Prenatal checkups become more necessary for such women due to the high risk for complications of pregnancy. It is also linked with consequential physical, mental, and social aftermaths that can negatively affect the health of the mother and, consequently, of the baby.

The risks include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Infections such as HIV, Hepatitis, and other fatal Sexually Transmitted Diseases
  • Depression
  • Self-harm
  • Domestic violence
  • Relationship problems
  • Involvement in criminal activities

Heroin can readily pass through the placenta and make its place inside the body of the fetus. This means whenever the mother consumes heroin, it is passed along to the fetus as well.

Following are the consequences of heroin abuse on the pregnancy and fetus when taken during gestation:

  • Complications of the Placenta:Placenta is an important part of the pregnancy. It is the ultimate source of all the nutrition provided to the baby in mother’s womb. Heroin can exert harmful effects on the placenta and damage it. This renders the baby nutrition deprived that can even cause the death of the baby.
  • Stillbirth:Apart from the risk of damaging placenta and ending in miscarriage, heroin abuse is also linked with increased chances of stillbirth (death of the fetus after reaching 24 weeks of gestation). According to a study done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2015, the use of illicit drugs during pregnancy raises the possibility of stillbirth by 2 to 3 times.
  • Preterm Birth:Heroin abuse during pregnancy increases the probability of preterm birth, which is the delivery of fetus before reaching the full-term gestational age i.e. 37 weeks. Babies who are born prior to reaching the complete gestational age, are exposed to develop serious health-related conditions in the future as they grow up.
  • Low Birth Weight:Since the placental tissue is compromised with the use of heroin and is the only source of nutrition and oxygen for the developing fetus, babies who survive this crisis are at the risk of having low birth weight at delivery. Low birth weight has been linked to increased mortality, hindered cognitive development, and different chronic diseases later in life.
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): It is a condition in which an infant dies a sudden and unexplained death usually while sleeping. Various studies have shown the association between heroin abuse by the mother during pregnancy and this syndrome.
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS): Neonatal abstinence syndrome is set of signs and symptoms that develop in a neonate who was exposed to addictive drugs inside the mother’s uterus. The constitutional signs and symptoms include high-pitched cry, tremors, sweating, temperature instability, jitteriness, feeding problems, seizures, etc. Heroin abuse during pregnancy can lead to the development of NAS which can perhaps be a deadly condition for the newborn if not treated promptly.
  • Learning and Behavioral Problems:The brain of fetus continues to develop throughout the pregnancy. Studies have shown that heroin use during pregnancy can impair brain development and the exposed children are likely to have certain learning, thinking, behavioral and emotional problems later in life.

The above discussion shows how detrimental heroin use can be during the pregnancy for the mother and the baby, both. It is best to avoid using such substances to run lower the risk of developing a wide range of troublesome health-related issues in both of them.

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