Consensus Guidelines and State Policies
The Gap Between Principle and Practice at the Intersection of Substance Use and Pregnancy
Published in: American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology MFM (May 2020). doi: 10.1016/j.ajogmf.2020.100137
Posted on RAND.org on June 03, 2020
The opioid crisis has had a substantial effect on women who are pregnant and parenting, focusing both public health and policymaker attention on opioids and on other substance use in pregnancy and postpartum. There is overwhelming consensus on the principle of a non-punitive approach towards substance use in pregnancy. Experts universally endorse supportive policies, which reduce barriers to care, and oppose punitive policies, which can increase the fear of legal penalties, discouraging women from seeking prenatal care and addiction treatment during pregnancy. We review the change over time in state-level policy environments around substance use in pregnancy and contrast the policy response with the principles and guidance from professional societies and federal agencies. Between 2000 and 2015, more states adopted punitive policies than supportive policies, in direct contrast with guidance from professional societies and federal agencies. The increase in punitive policies over the past two decades suggests that the gap between principles and practice is widening. Furthermore, the increase in punitive policies is occurring in the context of significant structural barriers to comprehensive health care across the woman's entire life course, a growing awareness of racial and ethnic inequities in maternal morbidity and mortality, and increasing restrictions at the state level on abortion access. Women with substance use disorder (SUD) need comprehensive, coordinated, evidence-based, trauma-informed, family-centered care. This care should be delivered in a compassionate and non-punitive environment, and clinicians, policymakers, and public health officials all have a role to play in achieving this goal.