Identifying Self-Management Support Needs for Pregnant Women With Opioid Misuse in Online Health Communities: Mixed Methods Analysis of Web Posts.


Liang OS(1), Chen Y(2), Bennett DS(3), Yang CC(1).
Author information:
(1)College of Computing and Informatics, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, United States.
(2)Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States.
(3)Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, United States.


BACKGROUND: The current opioid crisis in the United States impacts broad population groups, including pregnant women. Opioid use during pregnancy can affect the health and wellness of both mothers and their infants. Understanding women's efforts to self-manage opioid use or misuse in pregnancy is needed to identify intervention points for improving maternal outcomes. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to identify the characteristics of women in an online health community (OHC) with opioid use or misuse during pregnancy and the self-management support needs of these mothers. METHODS: A total of 200 web posts by pregnant women with opioid use participating in an OHC were double coded. Concepts and their thematic connections were identified through an inductive process until theoretical saturation was reached. Statistical tests were performed to identify patterns. RESULTS: The majority of pregnant women (150/200, 75.0%) in the OHC exhibited signs of misuse, and 62.5% (125/200) of the participants were either contemplating or pursuing dosage reduction. Self-managed withdrawal was more common (P<.001) than professional treatment among the population. A total of 5 themes of self-management support needs were identified as women sought information about the potential adverse effects of gestational opioid use, protocols for self-managed withdrawal, pain management safety during pregnancy, hospital policies and legal procedures related to child protection, and strategies for navigating offline support systems. In addition, 58.5% (117/200) of the pregnant women expressed negative emotions, of whom only 10.2% (12/117) sought to address their emotional needs with the help of the OHC. CONCLUSIONS: OHCs provide vital self-management support for pregnant women with opioid use or misuse. Women pursuing self-managed dosage reduction are prone to misinformation and repeated relapses, which can result in extreme measures to avoid testing positive for drug use at labor. The study findings provide evidence for public policy considerations, including universal screening of substance use for pregnant women, emphasis on treatment rather than legal punishment, and further expansion of the Drug Addiction Treatment Act waiver training program. The improvement of web-based platforms that can organize geo-relevant information, dispense clinically validated withdrawal schedules, and offer structured peer support is envisioned for harm reduction among pregnant women who opt for self-management of opioid misuse.