Opioid abuse has reached epidemic levels in the United States, increasing so rapidly that President Trump declared it to be a national emergency in the fall of 2017. Opioids are a class of drugs including prescription painkillers such as morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl, among others, as well as street drugs such as heroin. In 2015, roughly 2 million Americans struggled with addiction to prescription painkillers, and more than 33,000 died from an opioid overdose. With these record numbers, it can come as no surprise that opioid abuse has increased among pregnant mothers as well. From the year 2000 to 2009, the number of delivering mothers dependent on opioids increased five-fold, to approximately 23,000 mothers. These rising numbers indicate the need for outreach and treatment programs for expectant mothers coping with drug addiction, who want to improve their own health and the health of their children, but do not know how to deal with an addiction on their own.

Dangers From Opioid Use During Pregnancy

While drug abuse, in general, carries a stigma of shame, drug abuse during pregnancy seems to come with an even greater stigma. This scenario is unfortunate because pregnant women coping with addiction may feel too embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful to seek treatment, even knowing that their addiction can harm their unborn child. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stigma and bias amongst healthcare providers can lead to underreporting of drug abuse, which in turn can lead to delayed or ineffective treatment. Women may lie about their drug addiction if they feel that their doctors will judge them, or, even worse, take away their children. Eighteen states classify maternal drug use as child abuse, and three states consider it to be grounds for involuntary hospitalization. These policies act as a barrier for pregnant women to look for ways to deal with addiction, even though studies show that when women are allowed to stay with their children during treatment, they are more likely to start treatment and remain abstinent.

Opioid abuse carries risks for any individual, but the risks are even greater for a developing fetus. Some effects can be indirect: addicted mothers may neglect their own health in terms of a healthy diet and routine health care, may not seek regular prenatal care and have a greater risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis and HIV. Opioids can also directly affect the developing fetus by causing stunted growth, preterm labor, fetal convulsions, or even fetal death. Additionally, children born to opioid-addicted mothers are at risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition in which unborn children become dependent on the opioids their mother’s abuse during pregnancy. Once born, babies with NAS may experience tremors, diarrhea, fever, irritability, seizures, and difficulty feeding. As opioid abuse during pregnancy has increased, so have NAS rates, which increased five-fold from the year 2000 to 2012.

Stories of Pregnant Women and Opioid Addiction

The ramifications of opioid abuse on these children emphasize the need for increased support in teaching mothers how to deal with an addiction. Fortunately, effective treatment options exist for pregnant mothers who want to cope with drug addiction and move forward with their lives. Here are four success stories of pregnant women who overcame opioid addiction and are raising their children without using drugs.


Lucy’s addiction story began when she was prescribed Percocet for pain after having her wisdom teeth removed while in college. She filled the prescription but never used the pills after the surgery; however, she kept them. Several months later, a friend suggested that she could sell them, which she did, and together she and the friend used the last of the pills to get high. Sadly, that incident marked the beginning of a five-year opioid addiction that would cause her to drop out of college and steal to support her habit. When she got pregnant, Lucy did not even realize it for several months, and even then, she made no attempts to seek treatment to end her drug abuse. What saved her was an arrest for stealing her mother’s credit card when she was eight months pregnant.  She was offered the chance to avoid jail time by enrolling in an inpatient treatment program. She was able to give birth while in treatment and keep her daughter, Luna. In rehab, Lucy learned how to navigate her life without using drugs and received parenting training in the care of her daughter. Five years later, she is still sober, has another child, and works as an advocate for women at the treatment center that helped her.


Tramadol prescribed for her back pain started Myra on the road to addiction. Even though her habit began with a legitimate medical need, it quickly spiraled into an addiction to meth and heroin. A mother of four, she abused drugs during all but her first pregnancy. Only when her children were taken from her and placed with relatives or in foster care did she seek help. Her treatment center allowed her to keep her younger two children with her, while the older two went to live with their fathers. This set-up emphasizes the importance of providing support for mothers during inpatient rehab. Her program provided licensed child care onsite as well as therapy for children and treatment for babies born with NAS. That support allowed her to overcome her addiction while keeping her family intact.


Andrea began substance abuse at an early age, starting with alcohol at age 12 and moving on to Percocet and oxycodone by her junior year in high school. She abused drugs during all four of her pregnancies. Even though some of her doctors suspected her drug abuse, none ever tested her or offered to help her find a treatment program. Furthermore, Andrea overheard one doctor tell another that she knew Andrea was abusing drugs but would not “waste (her) time” testing her or offering treatment. The seizure of her children when her youngest was only one week old caused something to “snap,” and Andrea finally sought help. She has now remained clean for three years.


In an unusual twist, Kimberly was addicted to prescription painkillers for several years before she even realized she had a problem. After a car accident fractured her back at age 14, Kimberly went through five surgeries. After each, she took Percocet as well as muscle relaxants.  She never took the drugs to get high but became dependent on them through regular use. Only when she tried to stop using them because they made her feel sick did she realize that she could not simply stop taking them. Sadly, she switched from prescription drugs to Suboxone that she purchased on the street. When she discovered she was three months pregnant with her second child, Kimberly entered an inpatient treatment program. There, she was able to get sober before delivering her child, who was born with no complications from the drug abuse.

Each of these profiles shows that overcoming opioid addiction, even when pregnant, is possible with the proper treatment and support. If you or someone you know is pregnant and struggling with addiction, call our toll-free number today. We can help find the right treatment program.