No safe level of alcohol of drug use in pregnancy
Considering that antidepressants and antipsychotics are promoted as medical necessities, and considering they are at least as strong and toxic as street drugs if not worse, this article is just a tad bit ironic.
Prenatal exposure examined
10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, August 28, 2008
About 4,000 infants born between 2000 and 2005 in Riverside County may have experienced prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, according to a recently released report.
The study, conducted by the Riverside County Department of Public Health, also found that about 5 percent of women continued to use drugs and alcohol after discovering they were pregnant in 2007.
In 2005, more than 150 newborns were hospitalized for drug or alcohol exposure, the report states.
“We’ve been talking to (health care) providers about the importance of screening pregnant women for drugs and alcohol,” said Diane Ewing, a nurse manager and director of the department’s perinatal substance abuse program. “The biggest push we have with our program is prevention.”
She said more than 50 Riverside County health care providers, including doctors and clinics, are screening and educating patients about the dangers of using the slightest amount of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy. Ewing estimated that 24 percent of Riverside County women use drugs or alcohol some time during pregnancy.
Department statistics show 51 babies were born with fetal alcohol syndrome between 2000 and 2005 in the county. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a disorder characterized by abnormal facial features and growth and central nervous system problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There is a percentage of people who think that a drink now and then is OK,” said Ewing, whose goal is to encourage more doctors to screen their patients, especially those who are Caucasian and of a higher socioeconomic and education level. She said she thinks some doctors may assume that patients in those categories don’t need prenatal drug and alcohol screening and education.
Other data indicates that 246 newborns suffered drug withdrawal, 397 had been exposed to drugs and 62 suffered some kind of damage because of drugs.
Ewing said the number of affected babies may not appear overwhelming. But people have to factor in the cost of prolonged health care and special education that may be needed to help them, she said.
“It’s a powerful problem,” Ewing said. “We need to get every single provider screening woman for substance abuse.”
The point of prenatal education is to help women protect their babies, not judge them, she said.
Dr. Bruce Smith, who oversees San Bernardino County’s maternal and adolescent health programs, said no one should assume there is a safe level of prenatal drug or alcohol use. He said he thinks that about 30 percent of San Bernardino County women have used drugs or alcohol before they find out they are pregnant. Afterward, an estimated 13 percent continue to do so, he said.
About a quarter of the doctors delivering babies in San Bernardino County are screening patients for drug and alcohol use, Smith said.
“I think what the doctors are doing is a very good thing,” he said. “I think that changes are being made.”
Prenatal alcohol and drug use may lead to mental and development disorders and emotional and behavioral impairments, which can lead to lifelong consequences, Ewing said. Alcohol use can be particularly damaging during the first and third trimesters, which are critical brain development stages, she said.
“It can cause serious, serious problems,” said Ewing, adding that prenatal alcohol consumption is a completely preventable cause of mental disability. “The good news is it’s never too late to educate.”
Dr. Guillermo Valenzuela, chairman of the women’s health department at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, said pregnancy is one of the best opportunities for doctors to help women get help for substance abuse problems, but in a sensitive, nonjudgmental way.
“We perceive patients as patients,” he said. “The point is to get them to mirror a healthy lifestyle.”
Reach Lora Hines at 951-368-9444 or lhines@PE.com