Researchers studying postpartum opioid use

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded a $2.3 million New Innovator Award to a University of Arizona professor to study the relationship between postpartum hormones and opioid relapse.

“My study will explore how women’s hormones influence postpartum opioid relapse and whether these hormones could be used as a preventative-care strategy,” said Dr. Alicia Allen, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona Department of Family and Community Medicine. “While pregnancy presents a strong motivation for seeking and complying with treatment for addiction, the postpartum period is associated with a nearly 80% risk for relapse within six months of delivery.”

In the past 15 years, opioid addiction during pregnancy spiked nearly 500 percent.

Allen said relapse can result in several physical, social and emotional consequences, including anxiety and depression, increased risk of substance use disorders in children, poor academic achievement, foster-care placement, and fatal and non-fatal overdoses.

Allen and her team will measure hormones such as progesterone and oxytocin in women with and without opioid addiction in the first few months following childbirth. The goal is to eventually develop a hormonally-based intervention to prevent relapse.

The study is titled “Hormonal Response to Infant Caregiving: A Novel Strategy to Break the Opioid Relapse Cycle during the Postpartum Period.”

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