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Treatment for Cigarette, Alcohol and Drug Use During Pregnancy Dramatically Improves Outcomes for Mom and Baby, Kaiser Permanente Study Shows

Largest study to date examined nearly 50,000 pregnant women

January 27, 2011



OAKLAND, Calif. Pregnant women who receive treatment for substance abuse early in their pregnancy can achieve the same health outcomes as pregnant women with no substance abuse, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published online in the Journal of Perinatology.

The study, which is the largest to date, examined 49,985 women in Kaiser Permanente’s prenatal care program and found that integrating substance abuse screening and treatment into routine prenatal care helped pregnant women achieve similar health outcomes as women who were not using cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs. This is also the largest study to examine multiple substances: cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin.

“This program can happen everywhere and should become the gold standard for women who are pregnant and using cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs,” said study lead author Nancy C. Goler, MD, an OB/GYN and Kaiser Permanente regional medical director of the Early Start Program for the organization’s Northern California operations. “The study’s big finding was that study participants treated in the Early Start program had outcomes similar to our control group, women who had no evidence of substance abuse.”

The study compared 2,073 pregnant women who were screened, assessed and received ongoing intervention during pregnancy through the Early Start program at 21 Kaiser Permanente Northern California outpatient obstetric clinics from 1999 to 2003 to women in three other groups: 156 women who were screened but did not accept assessment or treatment; 1,203 women were screened, assessed and received brief intervention only; and a control group of 46,553 women who showed no evidence of substance abuse.

The study found the risk of stillborn, placental abruption (when the placental lining separates from the mother’s uterus), pre-term delivery, low birth weight and neonatal ventilation were dramatically higher for the 156 untreated substance abusers than the 2,073 women in the Early Start program:

  • Risk of stillbirth was 16.2 times higher for women who were screened but did not accept assessment or treatment than those who received Early Start treatment
  • Risk of placental abruption was 6.8 times higher for women who were screened but did not accept assessment or treatment than those who received treatment
  • Risk of pre-term delivery was 2.1 times higher for women who were screened but did not accept assessment or treatment than those who received treatment
  • Risk of low birth weight (under 5.5 pounds) was 1.8 times higher for women who were screened but did not accept assessment or treatment than those who received treatment
  • Risk of neonatal ventilation was 2.2 times higher for women who were screened but did not accept assessment or treatment than those who received treatment.

The women who went through the Early Start program had the same statistical risks of stillborn, preterm delivery, placental abruption as the control group of women who did not use any cigarettes, alcohol or drugs during their pregnancy.

“The key message here to women who are currently smoking, drinking or using other drugs, or who recently tried to stop, is that it is not too late to seek help when you find out you are pregnant,” said Dr. Goler. “The sooner women ask for help, the better the health outcomes will be for themselves, and their babies. My message to all pregnant women, as well as women who are trying to conceive, is to stop all alcohol, cigarette and drug use.”

Launched in 1990, Kaiser Permanente’s Early Start program integrates obstetric care with substance abuse treatment for pregnant women in three ways: all women are screened by questionnaire for drug, cigarette and alcohol use, and by urine toxicology testing with signed consent; a licensed substance abuse expert works in the OB/GYN department and sees the patients at the same time as their prenatal care appointments; and all providers and patients are educated about the effects of drugs, alcohol and cigarette use during pregnancy.

The program, which is in place in 40 Kaiser Permanente outpatient obstetric clinics in Northern California and being rolled out in other Kaiser Permanente facilities nationwide, screens nearly 40,000 women annually. By providing a licensed professional with expertise in substance abuse and pregnancy in the OB/GYN department – so women have barrier-free access to care in a safe, supportive environment – Early Start exceeds the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Ethics Opinion recommendations to use universal screening questions, brief intervention, and referral to treatment programs for substance abuse.

“This study is a superb example of how effective the Kaiser Permanente’s Early Start approach and methodology is in treating chemical dependency and substance abuse in pregnant women,” said Margaret Merritt, executive director of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, District IX (California). “Early Start exceeds the guidelines set forth by ACOG and is a fantastic example of a program that can be incorporated in a variety of settings to reach this very important group of women.”

The study was funded by a grant from the Direct Community Benefit Investment Fund of the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute. Other study co-authors included Mary Anne Armstrong, M.A.; Cosette J. Taillac, L.C.S.W., B.C.D.; and Veronica M. Osejo, B.S.


About Kaiser Permanente

About Kaiser Permanente Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: www.kp.org/newscenter.


About the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research

About the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes, and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and the society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well-being and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, the center's 400-plus staff is working on more than 250 epidemiological and health services research projects. About Kaiser Permanente Research Kaiser Permanente's eight research centers comprise one of the largest research programs in the U.S. and engage in work designed to improve the health of individuals everywhere. KP HealthConnect™, Kaiser Permanente's electronic health record, and other resources provide population data for research, and in turn, research findings are fed into KP HealthConnect to arm physicians with research and clinical data. Kaiser Permanente's research program works with national and local health agencies and community organizations to share and widely disseminate its research data. Kaiser Permanente's research program is funded in part by Kaiser Permanente's Community Benefit division, which in 2007 directed more than $1 billion in health services, technology, and funding toward total community health. About Kaiser Permanente Kaiser Permanente is America's leading integrated health plan. Founded in 1945, the program is headquartered in Oakland, Calif. Kaiser Permanente serves 8.7 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Today it encompasses Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and their subsidiaries, and the Permanente Medical Groups. Nationwide, Kaiser Permanente includes approximately 159,000 technical, administrative and clerical employees and caregivers, and 14,000 physicians representing all specialties. The organization’s Labor Management Partnership is the largest health care partnership in the United States. It governs how more than 130,000 workers, managers, physicians and dentists work together to make Kaiser Permanente the best place to receive care, and the best place to work. For more Kaiser Permanente news, visit the KP News Center at: http://xnet.kp.org/newscenter