Substance use in pregnancy resource development project

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Date Commenced:
Project Supporters:

Australian Government Department of Health

Project Members: 
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Dr Courtney Breen
Adjunct Senior Lecturer
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Ms Emilie Awbery
Research Officer
Project Main Description: 

This project involves the development of a resource for the identification, management and, if appropriate, referral of women who are pregnant and have a substance misuse problem. 


Substance use among pregnant women is a significant public health issue. A range of adverse effects have been noted including increased risk of miscarriage and still birth, reduction in fetal growth, birth defects, developmental delay, growth retardation and neurological abnormalities.

To date work in Australia has been undertaken describing the prevalence and correlates of substance use in pregnancy. Given the harms associated with substance use in pregnancy largely occur in women who are substance dependent it is timely that work now be undertaken to minimise the harms in this group.

As women are less likely to present in specialist services it is important to detect and manage women who are pregnant and dependent on alcohol and /or other drugs in non-specialist settings. 


To develop a resource for the identification, management and (if appropriate) referral of women who are pregnant and have a substance misuse problem.

Design and Method: 

This project involves:

  • An audit of services currently available for women who are pregnant and substance dependent
  • A literature review to identify the elements of an effective evidenced based resource for primary health care practitioners to identify, manage and if appropriate, the referral of those women who are pregnant and have a substance misuse problem
  • Development of a mock-up of a resource and refining the resource through stakeholder consultation
  • Consulting with stakeholders to establish strategies and settings for dissemination of the resource

The audit of specialist antenatal services has confirmed that there are few specialist services for pregnant women that use alcohol and other drugs and they mainly exist in metropolitan areas.

The literature review included an evaluation of existing screening tools for use by primary health care professionals, an assessment of brief and other interventions/ treatment  for pregnant women that use substances.

The stakeholder network provided valuable input on the proposed resource.


A draft report was submitted to the Department of Health in May 2014 and the final report submitted in September 2014. The final report included a report that contained the literature review and audit of services and a draft resource/ guide for primary health care professionals.

Ms Awbery and Dr Breen presented findings from the project at the APSAD conference in Adelaide in November 2014.


This project provides a comprehensive review of the evidence regarding treatment of women who use substances in pregnancy. The project included the development of a resource to be used in primary care to guide health professionals on evidence based identification, management and treatment of pregnant women that use alcohol and other drugs.

Project Status: 
Year Completed: