Durr AJ, Critch EA, Fitzgerald MP, Devlin KM, Fuller KA, Renzelli-Cain RI. Untangling the roots of the West Virginia opioid crisis: relationships in adolescent pregnancy, drug misuse, and future outcomes. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2021;121(2):191–198. doi: https://doi.org/10.1515/jom-2020-0247.
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West Virginia (WV) is afflicted by high rates of teenage pregnancy and births, opioid usage during pregnancy, and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome births. Current efforts are ineffective at reducing teenage pregnancy and opioid misuse. While pregnancy and opioid usage may appear to be separate issues, a number of associations suggest adolescent pregnancy, opioid use, and other health-related outcomes are part of a cluster of negative health conditions that should be addressed holistically.
To determine whether there is an association between teenage pregnancy and negative health outcomes, including opioid misuse, among WV adolescent girls.
This study was conducted from July 2018 to March 2019. We obtained the most recently-available aggregate data at the county level for each of the 55 WV counties from the WV Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR) on July 30, 2018, and we analyzed it during the fall of 2018. Raw data regarding pregnancy-related outcomes included WV girls between the ages of 15 and 19, was acquired between 2014 and 2017 by county, and was provided by the WVDHHR as a mean taken across all four years. Raw data regarding opioid misuse outcomes and heart-health variables included WV girls and women of all ages, was collected between 2014 and 2017 by county, and was provided by the WVDHHR as a mean taken across all four years, unless stated otherwise. Pearson correlation analysis was utilized to examine the associations between the teenage pregnancy and birth rates, opioid misuse, pregnancy, and heart-health-related statistics, as well as environmental variables.
Teenage pregnancy and birth rates were positively associated with fetal death rates (r=0.308, p<0.05 and r=0.261, p<0.10, respectively). The rate of fetal death among mothers aged 15–19 years was higher in counties with higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates. As the pregnancy and birth rates increased, the rate of abortion increased even more (r=0.434 and r=0.304 respectively, both p<0.05). Teenage pregnancy and birth rates were associated with opioid overdose death rates for all WV girls and women (Pearson correlations, r=0.444 and 0.418 respectively, both p<0.01). WV counties with higher pregnancy and birth rates among girls aged 15–19 years had a greater proportion of women dying from opioid overdose. Teenage pregnancy and birth rates were both positively correlated with obesity, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure (all r>0.39, all p<0.05). Neither the high-school dropout rate nor the number of WVDHHR listed clinics were associated with teenage pregnancy or birth rates (p>0.10).
Reduction of unintended teenage pregnancy may be viewed as a nontraditional, holistic, method of ameliorating the opioid misuse crisis in the state of WV. This recommendation should be part of a multi-pronged approach to mitigating the opioid epidemic in WV and all of Appalachia.
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