Drug use leading to more deaths of pregnant and postpartum women in Illinois

Drug use leading to the deaths of Ill. pregnant and postpartum women.
Published: Oct. 30, 2023 at 6:57 PM CDT
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MARION, Ill. (KFVS) - Drug use is leading to the deaths of more pregnant and postpartum women in Illinois than ever before.

Fentanyl, heroin and cocaine. Those are some of the drugs highlighted in the latest Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Report from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“We knew that substance use caused a number of deaths before but for the first time ever substance use is the leading cause of maternal mortality,” said Shannon Lightner, Chief Operating Officer for IDPH.

According to the IDPH, there were 263 pregnancy-related deaths between 2018 and 2020--32 percent of those deaths were tied to drug use.

“I think people often don’t think of pregnant or postpartum people as having substance use disorders,” Lightner says.

But she says that mentality has to change, especially among healthcare providers.

“They’re actually screening, asking questions and making sure if they identify a patient with substance use in that critical period of prenatal or postpartum that they’re ensuring they have access and referred to treatment with a warm referral. A warm handoff,” Lightner said.

“Obviously this study is very concerning, but this is kind of in conjunction with what we’ve seen in terms of maternal health trends,” said Morgan Torrez, a physician at Shawnee Health. “We frequently see mothers struggling with opioid use, methamphetamine use--and they are like other diseases.”

Torrez says it’s important to get the necessary help you need to keep you safe.

“Very treatable in pregnancy and like any chronic medical condition, the more that we treat it and have it well-controlled, the better the mother and the infant’s health is,” Torrez said.

And Torrez says Shawnee Health schedules early visits for every prenatal patient.

“Either one week to two weeks after birth to make sure we’re touching base with our moms and making sure that they’re doing okay, both with their mental health and their long term chronic health needs,” Torrez said.

According to the report from IDPH, more than half of all pregnancy-related deaths in the three-year period happened months after delivery.

Which means any health concerns after pregnancy should be checked out as soon as possible.

“We know that after 60 days through one year is a time where we see more deaths and there’s so many opportunities for prevention,” Lightner said. “Especially as providers interface with those people postpartum.”

More on the Shawnee Health’s Addiction Treatment program can be found here. If you are needing to schedule an appointment with Shawnee Health, you can call them at (618) 519-9200.

To view the full report of the IDPH study, click here.