Implementation and evaluation of a harm-reduction model for clinical care of substance using pregnant women

Tricia E. Wright, Renee Schuetter, Eric Fombonne, Jessica Stephenson, William F. Haning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Background: Methamphetamine (MA) use during pregnancy is associated with many pregnancy complications, including preterm birth, small for gestational age, preeclampsia, and abruption. Hawaii has lead the nation in MA use for many years, yet prior to 2007, did not have a comprehensive plan to care for pregnant substance-using women. In 2006, the Hawaii State Legislature funded a pilot perinatal addiction clinic. The Perinatal Addiction Treatment Clinic of Hawaii was built on a harm-reduction model, encompassing perinatal care, transportation, child-care, social services, family planning, motivational incentives, and addiction medicine. We present the implementation model and results from our first one hundred three infants (103) seen over 3 years of operation of the program.Methods: Referrals came from community health centers, hospitals, addiction treatment facilities, private physician offices, homeless outreach services and self-referral through word-of-mouth and bus ads. Data to describe sample characteristics and outcome was obtained prospectively and retrospectively from chart abstraction and delivery data. Drug use data was obtained from the women's self-report and random urine toxicology during the pregnancy, as well as urine toxicology at the time of birth on mothers, and urine and meconium toxicology on the infants. Post-partum depression was measured in mothers with the Edinburgh Post-Partum depression scale. Data from Path clinic patients were compared with a representative cohort of women delivering at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children during the same time frame, who were enrolled in another study of pregnancy outcomes. Ethical approval for this study was obtained through the University of Hawaii Committee for Human Studies.Results: Between April 2007 and August 2010, 213 women with a past or present history of addiction were seen, 132 were pregnant and 97 delivered during that time. 103 live-born infants were delivered. There were 3 first-trimester Spontaneous Abortions, two 28-week intrauterine fetal deaths, and two sets of twins and 4 repeat pregnancies. Over 50% of the women had lost custody of previous children due to substance use. The majority of women who delivered used methamphetamine (86%), either in the year before pregnancy or during pregnancy. Other drugs include marijuana (59.8%), cocaine (33%), opiates (9.6%), and alcohol (15.2%). Of the women served, 85% smoked cigarettes upon enrollment. Of the 97 women delivered during this period, all but 4 (96%) had negative urine toxicology at the time of delivery. Of the 103 infants, 13 (12.6%) were born preterm, equal to the state and national average, despite having many risk factors for prematurity, including poverty, poor diet, smoking and polysubstance use. Overwhelmingly, the women are parenting their children, > 90% retained custody at 8 weeks. Long-term follow-up showed that women who maintained custody chose long-acting contraceptive methods; while those who lost custody had a very high (> 50%) repeat pregnancy rate at 9 months post delivery.Conclusion: Methamphetamine use during pregnancy doesn't exist is isolation. It is often combined with a multitude of other adverse circumstances, including poverty, interpersonal violence, psychiatric comorbidity, polysubstance use, nutritional deficiencies, inadequate health care and stressful life experiences. A comprehensive harm reduction model of perinatal care, which aims to ameliorate some of these difficulties for substance-using women without mandating abstinence, provides exceptional birth outcomes and can be implemented with limited resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5
JournalHarm Reduction Journal
StatePublished - Jan 19 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Birth outcomes
  • Harm reduction
  • Methamphetamines
  • Pregnancy
  • Tobacco

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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