More Pregnant Teen Girls Abusing Methamphetamine, Marijuana

Posted on July 8th, 2010
Posted in Pregnancy

According to new data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more teen pregnancies took place from 2005 to 2006 for the first time in more than a decade. Statistically, teenagers who become pregnant have also demonstrated the likelihood to engage in other risky behavior, such as substance abuse. Following SAMHSA’s Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) report, pregnant teenage admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities increased from 1,300 admissions in 1992 to 1,700 admissions in 2007. Since 1992, marijuana abuse among pregnant teenagers more than doubled in 2007, and methamphetamine abuse more than quadrupled.

During the sixteen-year period, substance abuse facility admissions of both white and non-Hispanic black pregnant teenagers ages 13–19 fell (from 54.5% whites in 1992 to 50.3% in 2007, and 24.0% blacks in 1992 to 14.7% in 2007), although white females remain the majority of pregnant teenager admissions. However, other ethnicity groups’ admissions for pregnant teens rose in 2007, particularly pregnant Hispanic teenagers (from 15.7% of pregnant teen admissions in 1992 to 21.4% in 2007).

Most significantly, the primary substances of abuse being treated in pregnant teen admissions dramatically shifted. In 1992, alcohol was the most predominantly reported substance of abuse at 44.1% of admissions, followed by cocaine at 20.2% of admissions, and marijuana at 19.3% of admissions. However, by 2007, marijuana became the leading substance of abuse among admissions, rising to 45.9% (more than twice the admissions in 1992).

Alcohol as the primary substance of abuse dropped to 20.3% in 2007, less than half of the alcohol admissions in 1992. The largest shift occurred in admissions for methamphetamine abuse, rising from 4.3% to 18.8%. Admissions for cocaine abuse in 2007 were less than half the admissions from 1997 (20.8% to 6.8%), and heroin admissions feel from 4.5% to 3.1%. 

Patterns in prior admissions remained relatively the same between 1992 and 2007. Although the majority of pregnant teen admissions were first-time admissions in both years (64.0% of admissions in 1992 and 61.4% in 2007), the level of admissions that included at least one other prior treatment admission slightly rose from 36.0% in 1992 to 38.6% in 2007. In both years, about one in five pregnant teenagers had been admitted to treatment one previous time, and almost one in six had two or more previous admissions.

The source of the teenage girls’ admissions also demonstrated a shift from 1992 to 2007. In 1992, the majority of pregnant teen admissions to treatment were self-referred (28.5%), followed by the criminal justice system (21.6%) and community organizations (15.9%). Yet in 2007, these trends completely changed; the leading source of referral for pregnant teenage admissions became the criminal justice system in 2007 (43.3% of admissions), more than twice the amount from 1992. Community organizations referrals also increased to 23.2%, while fewer admissions were self-referred to treatment (17.2%). Other sources of referral reported in the study, which included health care providers, alcohol/drug abuse care providers, and schools, all decreased in 2007 as well.

Teen pregnancy has always been a public health epidemic, but has become an even larger national problem today. Teen pregnancies create negative impacts on the nation’s economy, education, and productivity; these pregnancies combined with substance abusing behavior are more likely to result in premature births, lower birth weight, miscarriage, birth defects, neonatal withdrawal symptoms, and developmental and behavioral complications in newborns. SAMHSA’s report helps highlight the changing characteristics of those groups in society who are most at risk of substance abuse and in need of more prevention, intervention, and treatment strategies.

Since 1992, Hispanics have become more vulnerable to teen pregnancy and substance abuse, indicating a need for policymakers and health care providers to create more culturally sensitive substance abuse prevention mechanisms and resources that target this group. The significant rise in methamphetamine and marijuana abuse among pregnant teens should enlighten parents, educators, and health care physicians of these growing trends among adolescents and encourage them to reform their intervention techniques, outreach programs, and counseling for pregnant teenagers.

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