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Pregnancy-related deaths are on the rise; in Utah, opioids contribute

SALT LAKE CITY – Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a startling new statistic about pregnancy and death.

Deaths related to pregnancies are on the rise.

A young woman now is twice as likely to die giving birth than her mother was. These types of death are still rare — 17 out of 100,000 — but the rate is rising. And the risk doubles again if you’re Black, Native American or an Alaskan native.

Utah isn’t immune. But here, opioids come into play.

A new study done by the University of Utah Health’s Dr. Marcela Smid found that, most often, drug overdose is what causes Utah’s pregnant women and new moms to die. And the worst offender is opioids.

“The leading cause is what we call drug-induced death,” Smid said, “so deaths that were caused by drugs, and 74 percent of those deaths were opioid-related.”

The study found drug-induced deaths made up 24 percent of all deaths in the state from 2005 to 2014. During those nine years, there were 136 pregnancy-related deaths. Of those, 35 of them were related to drugs; 27 of those 35 were opioid-related.

“In relation to other states we’re not much higher,” Smid said. “But we are higher than other states proportionately for drugs that cause death to our mothers.”

She says there are several committees in the United States devoted to studying this issue, so more information is being gathered. Dr. Smid hopes it will raise awareness that this isn’t just a Utah problem — but a nation-wide one.

Addiction plays a huge role in these numbers, but there are also other factors in all of this.

“What we see in this study, and emergingly throughout the country, is that maternal mental health is really driving a lot of this,” Smid said. “Depression, anxiety those things are leading either to moms delaying care for themselves if they have a medical issue and suicides are also contributing to this.”

She says in her field there are several factors that can affect these issues. Dr. Smid also says patients express that, overall, there needs to be better systems in place for helping postpartum moms. This includes how the provider screens moms for issues, healthcare facilities, and even how communities can help better support moms.

“We need to have places where moms can go for help,” Smid said. “That those providers and those health systems and the bigger, broader systems so that is our social communities, our religious communities, our cultural communities are able to respond to moms who need help.”

Contributing: Jeff Caplan, Nick Wyatt, Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News