Office of National Drug Control Policy

Substance Abuse and Maternal and Child Health

Another area of concern is alcohol and drug use by pregnant women. Research has shown that babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies display altered responses to visual stimuli, increased tremulousness, and a high-pitched cry, which may indicate problems with neurological development.

Heroin and methamphetamine use during pregnancy have also been associated with adverse consequences in babies. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has created a Prenatal Effects page to focus on the impact that a mother's drug use can have on the developing fetus.  Similar symptoms of withdrawal—caused by increasing abuse of prescription drugs—are being seen with increasing frequency among newborns.  Washington State has noted this effect, where the number of newborns in withdrawal went from 1.4/1,000 newborns in 2000 to 4.8/1,000 newborns in 2009 (Washington State Department of Health).  In Florida, the rate of newborns born in withdrawal also increased—in 2005, just over 1 in 1,000 newborns were born in withdrawal; in 2009, the rate had increased to just over 4 in 1,000 newborns (Florida Department of Health data, as reported by the Herald Tribune, July 18, 2010).

To address the needs of dependent, pregnant women and provide for the health of their babies, the Administration’s latest National Drug Control Strategy calls for increased family-based treatment to ensure that families suffering from substance abuse are not further torn apart.  Family-based treatment helps to keep families together while getting the help that parents, primarily mothers, need to address their substance abuse issues.  Many Family-based treatment programs can help dependent women before their children are born dependent. 

Family-based treatment programs offer services for mothers and their children in addition to treatment.  These services include parenting classes, employment and education assistance, and other life skills training.  By allowing the whole family to address substance abuse issues together, families stay together and help disrupt the intergenerational cycle of addiction, violence, and poverty.