Home > Is perinatal substance abuse falling through the cracks?

Mitchell, JM and Keenan, O and Fakhoury, A and Fitzgerald, D and Mohamad, MM and Imcha, M (2023) Is perinatal substance abuse falling through the cracks? Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, Early online, 10.1017/ipm.2023.22.

Objectives: Perinatal substance abuse (PSA) is associated with increased risk of prematurity, low birth weight, neonatal abstinence syndrome, behavioral issues and learning difficulties. It is imperative that robust care pathways are in place for these high-risk pregnancies and that staff and patient education are optimized. The present study explores the knowledge and attitudes of healthcare professionals toward PSA to identify knowledge gaps to enhance care and reduce stigma.


Methods: This is a cross-sectional study using questionnaires to survey healthcare professionals (HCPs) working in a tertiary maternity unit (n = 172).


Results: The majority of HCPs were not confident in the antenatal management (75.6%, n = 130) or postnatal management (67.5%, n = 116) of PSA. More than half of HCPs surveyed (53.5%, n = 92) did not know the referral pathway and 32% (n = 55) did not know when to make a TUSLA referral. The vast majority (96.5%, n = 166) felt that they would benefit from further training, and 94.8% (n = 163) agreed or strongly agreed that the unit would benefit from a drug liaison midwife. Among study participants, 54.1% (n = 93) agreed or strongly agreed that PSA should be considered a form of child abuse and 58.7% (n = 101) believe that the mother is responsible for damage done to her child.


Conclusions: Our study highlights the urgent need for increased training on PSA to enhance care and reduce stigma. It is imperative that staff training, drug liaison midwives and dedicated clinics are introduced to hospitals as a matter of high priority.

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