Pregnant and Addicted to Opioids


Four mothers reveal how they spiraled into addiction and eventually got clean as the rate of drug addicted babies born in America soars.

By Maggie O’Neill

Original Source:

Lucy Brown did not realize she was pregnant until three months before her due date.

The 24-year-old’s life had been in disarray for the last five years, since taking Percocet after having her wisdom teeth removed. Despite her family’s attempts to help her, the drug took hold, she dropped out of college and spent time in jail.

In the spring of 2011 Lucy noticed her clothes didn’t fit, stole a pregnancy test in Wal-Mart and used it before leaving the store. When she went to the Health Department in Moore County, North Carolina, to confirm the test’s positive result and found out she was having a girl – and soon.

But this was not enough to help her kick her addiction to prescription opioids. Instead, it fueled it.

She says she remembers thinking: ‘Now I can’t stop because I have a baby who could die if I stopped using.’ She was convinced that quitting would cause her baby to experience harsh withdrawal symptoms so she continued taking 30, 40 or even 50 pills a day to satisfy her cravings.

Her reaction is not uncommon: America’s current opioid crisis has left many women far too deep in a battle with addiction to consider quitting when they find out they are pregnant. If they do decide to quit, finding doctors who can both provide prenatal care and give them the resources they need to stop using is a challenge in itself.

At eight months pregnant, Lucy found care at a clinic in North Carolina, but she did not go willingly. In between finding out she was pregnant and the beginning of her ninth month, Lucy had gotten arrested, and the only way she could avoid having her baby in prison was admitting herself to the treatment program. In retrospect, she says, the program saved her child’s life, and, in turn, having a child saved her life.

Now 30, with two healthy children – including the one she carried while abusing opioids – Lucy works at that same treatment center as an advocate for women who do not know where to turn for help.

‘A lot of these women don’t have anyone, and we’ve helped lots and lots of people. I’m just glad that I’m one of them,’ she says.

Lucy is one of four women who spoke to to tell their stories of getting hooked on prescription painkillers, then desperately trying to get clean before parenthood.

Lucy Brown (right), 30, abused opioids while pregnant with her daughter Luna (left), six. Now, Lucy works at the clinic that helped her get and stay clean

Opioids are a class of drugs used to treat severe pain. The highly-addictive medications have been overprescribed in recent decades partially because pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the pills have falsely advertised them.

City and state governments in places where the opioid epidemic has hit hardest are now suing these companies for telling doctors the drugs they were selling were not addictive.

Many people who start out taking prescription opioids to treat pain end up turning to deadly illicit versions of the drugs such as heroin and fentanyl when their doctor stops prescribing painkillers to them or they can no longer afford the expensive, legal medications.

This perfect storm has led to America’s worst drug crisis in modern history, which killed a staggering 64,765 people from February 2016 to February 2017.

The epidemic has escalated rapidly; that figure jumped more than 20 percent from the number of deaths linked to drug overdoses that occurred from February 2015 to February 2016. The CDC has said more than 90 Americans a day die from an overdose involving an opioid.

Epidemiology experts are now desperately urging doctors to think twice before doling out a prescription for opioids, which is all too often what starts the process of a person becoming addicted to illegal drugs.

Common brands of opioids are OxyContin, Vicodin, Roxicodone and Percocet, which is what Lucy was originally prescribed and became hooked on in 2006. The clinic that helped her get and stay clean is one of only a few in the US successfully treating pregnant women with opioid use disorder.

This is despite the CDC saying that women are more likely than men to be prescribed painkillers and are given higher doses of the medications. The agency has also said that women are more likely to use them for longer periods of time.

The number of pregnant women abusing opioids has increased nearly five-fold since 2000 so the epidemic has not spared children.

It has led to an increase in babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which translates to withdrawal symptoms including tremors and seizures. It takes an average of 16 days and $66,700 to treat a baby born with NAS.

The problem has left healthcare providers with a complex question: how do prenatal care physicians help mothers-to-be – and their babies – diagnose and treat painkiller and heroin addictions?


Lucy Brown’s addiction began after she was prescribed Percocet when she had her wisdom teeth removed as a 19-year-old sophomore at Western Carolina University, which was a little more than five hours away from her hometown of Pinehurst, North Carolina.

But she did not use the medication to treat the pain she experienced post-surgery.

‘I didn’t use it at all. But maybe about six months later somebody said: “Oh, you know you can sell that medication?” And so I did,’ she said. The person that she sold the last of her pills to invited her to do them with him, and this was how her five-year opioid addiction began.

‘It was just this immediate high, and I felt terminally cool. And I used it, I think, daily from that point on,’ Lucy remembered. She did not know in the beginning that she was addicted.

Lucy started buying any kind of prescription opioids from drug dealers in her area.

Lucy (left) now has another child, Juniper (middle), who is 10 months old. Lucy credits her love for her daughter Luna (right) with helping her stay sober after she first gave birth six years ago