Women who use illegal drugs in rural US less likely to use contraception- study 

Researchers have found that female drug users living in rural areas are less likely to use contraceptives and are more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy.

FORMER PLANNED PARENTHOOD president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest against anti-abortion legislation at the US Supreme Court in Washington on June 20. (photo credit: REUTERS/JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN)
FORMER PLANNED PARENTHOOD president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest against anti-abortion legislation at the US Supreme Court in Washington on June 20.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN)

Women in rural areas who use illegal substances were found to have lower rates of contraceptive usage and higher rates of unwanted births than women in rural areas who don’t use drugs, according to a new survey. 

"The findings, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, come as access to reproductive health care — including abortion — is increasingly restricted across large swaths of the country, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn constitutional protections in place since Roe v. Wade became precedent in 1973".

In the study published in June, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University examined data provided by the Rural Opioids Initiative to find the right people to survey for the study. The study spanned eight rural US regions between January 2018 to March 2020 and focused on women ages 18 to 49 who disclosed they had taken illicit drugs within the last 30 days.

A total of 855 subjects participated in the survey, with only 316 reporting using contraceptive methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

 Different kinds of birth control pills. (credit: Ceridwen/Wikimedia Commons) Different kinds of birth control pills. (credit: Ceridwen/Wikimedia Commons)

How many women use contraceptives? 

The National Survey on Family Growth, a data center focusing on pregnancy and contraception, determined that 66% of women in rural areas do use contraceptives, but, in light of recent events in the US, there is a fresh and urgent need to increase both reproductive health care and substance use treatments.

Why do unwanted pregnancies occur?

These unwanted pregnancies are largely due to a lack of effective contraceptive methods (birth control, a patch or ring), the study found. Instead, women use less effective measures, such as condoms. The lack of contraceptive use is also determined by violent sexual partners, according to the study. 

“There are long-term economic consequences to women having children when they don’t intend to,” Ximena Levander assistant professor at the OHSU School of Medicine said. “We know that women who use illicit drugs have higher rates of unintended pregnancies, which raises concern for her health and the infant.”

“We know that women who use illicit drugs have higher rates of unintended pregnancies, which raises concern for her health and the infant.”

Ximena Levander assistant professor at the OHSU School of Medicine

There has been an excessive increase in the number of overdoses of women in the US within the past two decades. Among the female population that uses illegal drugs, 60-90% of unwanted pregnancies were found to be due to a mix of individual, community and environmental factors, according to the study.

Although women's health and lives are currently at an increased risk in the United States, the authors noted, many agencies across the United States said they will continue to provide information and resources to educate people about their options when it comes to reproductive health and rights.