Between April 2003 and May 2004 Donnelly and colleagues interviewed 1,011 Caucasian women attending a maternity hospital in Dublin city centre to determine their use of illegal drugs, tobacco and alcohol.1 The definition of illegal drugs used in the survey is not presented in the published paper. The study participants were expecting their first baby, were less than 20 weeks pregnant and were aged between 16 and 40 years. They were interviewed at private, semi-private and public antenatal clinics. The study response rate was very high, at 95%.
Of the 1,011 women interviewed, 235 (23.5%) reported that they had taken an illegal drug at some point prior to this pregnancy. As expected, cannabis was the most commonly used illegal drug, with 214 respondents (21.2%) reporting that they had used it at some point prior to this pregnancy. Seventy respondents (6.9%) had used ecstasy at some point prior to this pregnancy, while 64 (5.8%) had used cocaine. Ninety women (8.9%) had used more than one illegal drug prior to this pregnancy. Eleven women (1.1%) had used an illegal drug during this pregnancy.
In relation to tobacco use, 574 (57%) of the women interviewed reported that they had smoked cigarettes at some point in their lives; 282 (28%) reported that they were current smokers, of whom 87 smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day.
In relation to alcohol use, 545 women (54%) said that they had drunk alcohol on at least one occasion since their first positive pregnancy test, of whom 500 (91.7%) had drunk between one and four units, 33 (5.1%) between five and 10 units and 12 (2.2%) more than 10 units.
Alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking were associated with illegal drug use: smokers were 2.8 times more likely to use illegal drugs than non-smokers, while women who drank alcohol were 1.8 times more likely use illegal drugs than non-drinkers. The type of clinic attended or the level of education achieved were not associated with the use of illegal drugs. High levels of alcohol use among pregnant women in Ireland has been reported elsewhere.
This survey does not report confidence intervals so it is not possible to estimate the prevalence of substance use among the population of primigravid women. (Jean Long)
1. Donnelly JC, Cooley SM, Walsh TA, Sarkar R, Durnea U and Geary M (2008) Illegal drug use, smoking, alcohol consumption in a low-risk Irish primigravid population. Journal of Perinatal Medicine, 38: 70–72.