Currently, there are punitive policies that criminalize drug use during pregnancy or define prenatal substance use as child maltreatment in child welfare statutes. If newborns are found to have prenatal exposure to substances or are born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, these states may charge the pregnant person with substance use disorder with child abuse or terminate their parental rights.
In contrast, states that adopt supportive policies provide pregnant women with priority access to substance use disorder treatment programs, as well as create or fund targeted substance use disorder treatment programs for pregnant women. Supportive treatments are recommended by American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to build trust and connections with the health care systems.
Some prenatal substance use policies date back to the 1980s, when states adopted measures that were intended to reduce adverse maternal and newborn health outcomes during the crack cocaine epidemic. Despite the limited body of research assessing the effectiveness of these policies, PSUPs have grown more punitive over time.
New publications authored by CHERISH Research Affiliates Angélica Meinhofer, Catherine Maclean, Ali Jalali, and Shashi Kapadia, and CHERISH investigators Yuhua Bao and Jake Morgan evaluate the effectiveness of PSUPs on newborn health and analyze the impact of PSUPs on maternal outcomes among populations with opioid use disorder. The findings from these studies provide evidence that punitive PSUPs are potentially harmful and supportive PSUPs can have positive effects.