Drug abuse and dependency during pregnancy: anaesthetic issues

J. Ludlow, T. Christmas, Mike Paech, B. Orr

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    25 Citations (Scopus)


    Drug abuse is a significant social problem that can lead to serious obstetric complications, some of which may be confused with pregnancy-related disease states. Substance abuse poses a number of challenges with respect to the management of pain and the conduct of anaesthesia in the peripartum period. This review was based on information from a literature search of epidemiological, research and review papers on substance abuse during pregnancy, obtained for the purpose of preparing a background paper for the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, Commonwealth Government of Australia. Given that almost 80% of substance-abusing parturients require anaesthetic services in the perinatal period, early antenatal referral for anaesthetic review is recommended. To optimise the care of these vulnerable patients, obstetricians, general practitioners and midwives should attempt to identify substance-abusing parturients and refer them to an anaesthetist. A careful anaesthetic evaluation with non-judgemental questioning is essential, with management tailored to individual patient needs and the urgency of obstetric intervention for vaginal delivery or caesarean section. Opioid-dependent women, in particular, benefit from antenatal pain management planning. Patients recovering from drug addiction should also have a well-documented analgesic strategy. A multidisciplinary approach will involve obstetricians, anaesthetists and staff of the Drug and Alcohol Service. In acute admissions of women by whom antenatal care was not accessed, a high index of suspicion for illicit drug use should arise. Because illicit substance use is so prevalent, if untoward reactions occur during an otherwise uneventful anaesthetic, the possibility of drug abuse should be considered.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)881-893
    JournalAnaesthesia and Intensive Care
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


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