Research Snapshot: New Stigma Scale Aims to Improve Health for Pregnant Women Who Use Opioids

A doctor checks a pregnant person's blood pressure using a blood pressure cuff.
  • Stigma can prevent women with opioid use disorder from getting adequate healthcare for themselves and their infants.
  • A new tool fills a research gap by enabling accurate measurement of perceived stigma among pregnant women with opioid use disorder.
  • Mothers who perceived stigma were less likely to receive adequate care during their pregnancies.

Pregnancy is often considered a window of opportunity to focus on health for women and their children. For women with opioid use disorder, stigma can get in the way, leading to delays in care and lack of communication with their provider, which affects both mothers and their babies. Measuring this stigma is an important research tool to assess, develop, and test ways to end stigma and its negative effects on health. Before now, there wasn’t a good way to measure stigma specific to pregnancy and opioid use.

New research, part of the ACT NOW Outcomes of Babies With Opioid Exposure Study funded by the Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, created and tested a new way to measure stigma among pregnant women. The new tool was developed by a research team led by Carla Bann, Ph.D., from RTI International in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

By using the scale with pregnant women, the researchers learned that pregnant women facing more perceived stigma were less likely to receive adequate prenatal care (defined as three or more visits and starting care before the third trimester). Perceived stigma also impaired communication with providers – such as avoiding talking to healthcare providers about opioid use for fear of judgement.

The researchers tested the survey with 127 mothers, most of whom were non-Hispanic White women. Future studies testing the stigma survey among a more diverse population may help make the results more broadly relevant. More research may also point to additional factors that contribute to stigma and inadequate healthcare during pregnancy.


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