A new study co-authored by a University of Central Florida researcher shows that laws that punish substance use during pregnancy actually do more harm than good. These unintended consequences include keeping women from getting the treatment they need and failing to reduce the number of babies addicted to drugs.
The study, which was published Monday in the journal Health Affairs, compared the effects of punitive polices in states that implemented them and those that didn’t.
“Opioid use during pregnancy can harm both the mother and baby, and rates of opioid use disorder at delivery increased over 300 percent between 1999 and 2014,” said Danielle Atkins, an assistant professor in UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education and study co-author.
“States have taken various approaches to address prenatal substance use, including policies that consider prenatal substance use as equivalent to child abuse or neglect,” Atkins said. “In our study, we did not find evidence that having a punitive prenatal-substance-use policy reduced rates of babies born with withdrawal symptoms or maternal narcotic exposure at birth.”
“We found evidence, however, that punitive policies reduce substance use treatment admissions among pregnant women and that a smaller share of pregnant women are referred to treatment by health care providers in states with punitive policies,” she said.