Opioid use disorder among pregnant women continues to rise, and untreated opioid use is associated with complications including preterm delivery, placental abruption, and stillbirth, wrote Alexis Braverman, MD, of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and colleagues. However, many perinatal women who seek care and medications for opioid use disorder (OUD) report stigma that limits their ability to reduce these risks.
In a study published in the, the researchers conducted an anonymous survey of 132 health care workers at six outpatient locations and a main hospital of an urban medical center. The survey was designed to assess attitudes toward pregnant women who were using opioids. The 119 complete responses in the final analysis included 40 nurses and 79 clinicians across ob.gyn., family medicine, and pediatrics. A total of 19 respondents were waivered to prescribe outpatient buprenorphine for OUD.
Nurses were significantly less likely than clinicians to agree that OUD is a chronic illness, to feel sympathy for women who use opioids during pregnancy, and to see pregnancy as an opportunity for behavior change (P = .000, P = .003, and P = .001, respectively).
Overall, family medicine providers and clinicians with 11-20 years of practice experience were significantly more sympathetic to pregnant women who used opioids, compared with providers from other departments and with fewer years of practice (P = .025 and P = .039, respectively).
Providers in pediatrics departments were significantly more likely than those from other departments to agree strongly with feeling anger at pregnant women who use opioids (P = .009), and that these women should not be allowed to parent (P = .013). However, providers in pediatrics were significantly more comfortable than those in other departments with discussing the involvement of social services in patient care (P = .020) and with counseling patients on neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, known as NOWS (P = .027).
“We hypothesize that nurses who perform more acute, inpatient work rather than outpatient work may not be exposed as frequently to a patient’s personal progress on their journey with OUD,” and therefore might not be exposed to the rewarding experiences and progress made by patients, the researchers wrote in their discussion.
However, the overall low level of comfort in discussing NOWS and social service involvement across provider groups (one-quarter for pediatrics, one-fifth for ob.gyn, and one-sixth for family medicine) highlights the need for further training in this area, they said.
The findings were limited by several factors, including the potential for responder bias; however, the results identify a need for greater training in stigma reduction and in counseling families on issues related to OUD, the researchers said. More studies are needed to examine attitude changes after the implementation of stigma reduction strategies, they concluded.
The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.