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Public Health Rep. 1994 Jul-Aug;109(4):530-8.

Prevalence of illicit drugs detected in the urine of women of childbearing age in Alabama public health clinics.

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Division of Field Epidemiology, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA.


Each year, it is estimated that from 350,000 to 739,000 U.S. infants are exposed in utero to one or more illicit drugs. To estimate the prevalence of and risk factors for illicit drug use by women of childbearing age in Alabama, during 2 months in 1991 the authors collected patient-reported histories, clinical histories, and urine specimens from 6,195 women statewide attending public health maternity clinics, family planning clinics, and a high-risk referral obstetrical clinic. Blind drug screening of urine specimens for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, barbiturates, and amphetamines was performed with the use of a fluorescent polarization immunoassay. The overall prevalence of positive results for drugs tested was 10.1 percent, including 8.4 percent of the 3,554 pregnant and 12.3 percent of the 2,571 nonpregnant women screened. The drugs most frequently detected were marijuana and cocaine. Characteristics of the subjects associated with a higher prevalence of positive results for any drug tested or for marijuana included white race, older age, being divorced, non student occupation, having 12 or less years of education, attending a clinic located in a suburban county, self-reported substance use, increased risk for human immunodeficiency virus infection, and reproductive history. Characteristics of women with positive screening for cocaine results were similar to those who tested positive for any drug, except that the prevalence of cocaine was higher among black women and those attending urban county clinics and did not vary by years of education. Patient-reported histories of drug use were insensitive in identifying women who had positive drug screening results (sensitivity, 6.3 percent; specificity, 98.2 percent). Thus, in this study,the use of illicit drugs among women of childbearing age attending public clinics in Alabama was common and emphasizes the need for targeted drug education and interventions to reduce the impact of drug use on this high-risk population.

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