Pregnancy- and parenting-related barriers to receiving medication for opioid use disorder: A multi-paneled qualitative study of women in treatment, women who terminated treatment, and the professionals who serve them

Hannah B. Apsley, Kristina Brant, Sarah Brothers, Eric Harrison, Emma Skogseth, Robert P. Schwartz, Abenaa A. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Women face unique barriers when seeking treatment for substance use disorders, often related to pregnancy and parenting. Objectives: This study adds to the extant literature by elucidating the pregnancy- and parenting-related barriers women face when initiating or continuing medication for opioid use disorder, specifically. Design: This study is based on qualitative semi-structured interviews. Methods: Three subgroups participated in semi-structured interviews regarding their experiences (N = 42): women with current or past opioid use disorders who have used or were presently using medication for opioid use disorder, professionals working in substance use disorder treatment programs, and criminal justice professionals. Results: Three parenting-related subthemes were identified: (1) insufficient access to childcare to navigate appointments and meetings, (2) fear of losing custody of, or access to, one’s children, and (3) prioritizing one’s children’s needs before one’s own. Three subthemes were identified with regard to pregnancy as a barrier: (1) hesitancy among physicians to prescribe medication for opioid use disorder for pregnant patients, (2) limited access to resources in rural areas, and (3) difficulty navigating a complex, decentralized health system. Conclusion: Systemic changes are needed to reduce pregnant and parenting women’s barriers to seeking medication for opioid use disorder. These include improved childcare support at both in-patient and outpatient treatment programs, which would assuage women’s barriers related to childcare, as well as their fears of losing access to their children if they spend time away from their children for treatment. An additional systemic improvement that may reduce barriers for these women is access to comprehensive, integrated care for their prenatal care, postpartum care, pediatric appointments, and appropriate substance use disorder treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalWomen's Health
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine

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