Sustained Outrage

Drug use and pregnant teens

A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration highlights some interesting trends among pregnant teenagers who seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. The report compared admissions from 1992 and 2007, and boy, has a lot changed over 15 years.

First of all, the demographics have shifted. In 1992, 54.5 percent of the pregnant teens admitted for treatment were white, 24 percent were black, and 15.7 percent were Hispanic. By 2007, those percentages were 50.3, 14.7 and 21.4, respectively.

The real eye-opening figures are in the primary substance abused. (A solid majority of pregnant teens admitted to treatment programs reported abusing multiple substances: 60.6 percent in 1992 and 62.5 percent in 2007). Alcohol, by far the dominant substance in 1992 at 44.1 percent, dropped to 20.3 percent in 2007. It was largely supplanted by marijuana, which jumped from 19.3 percent to 45.9 percent. Cocaine (20.2 percent to 6.8 percent) and heroin (4.5 percent to 3.1 percent) trended downwards. But the percentage of pregnant teens abusing methamphetamine more than quadrupled, from 4.3 percent in 1992 to 18.8 percent in 2007.

I also find it interesting that fewer teens are self-reporting (28.5 percent to 17.2 percent), or being referred by alcohol/drug abuse care providers (11.9 percent to 7.6 percent) other health care providers (15.1 percent to 4.7 percent) and schools (6.8 percent to 4.1 percent). Instead, many more are getting caught up in the criminal justice system (21.6 percent in 1992 to 43.3 percent in 2007).

Here’s the conclusion reached by the report:

First, the increased proportion of Hispanic pregnant teen admissions indicates a need for culturally sensitive substance abuse prevention and intervention programs, including culturally appropriate messaging, outreach, and engagement. Second, the quadruple increase in primary methamphetamine abuse highlights the need for educating teachers, primary care physicians, and obstetric and gynecologic specialists about the increased use among pregnant teens, especially in areas where methamphetamine abuse is a large problem or emerging concern, so they can provide the screening, counseling, and interventions necessary to help ensure the delivery of a full-term, healthy infant and the long-term health and well-being of the mother.