(HealthDay News) — The proportion of women dependent on drugs such as narcotic painkillers or heroin during pregnancy has more than doubled in the past decade and a half, though it still remains below a half-percent of all pregnancies, according to a study published in the December issue of Anesthesiology.

The researchers analyzed national hospitalization data on nearly 57 million deliveries between 1998 and 2011. According to the new analysis, the percentage of women dependent on opioids during pregnancy more than doubled during that time, from 0.17 percent in 1998 to 0.39 percent in 2011. The increased risks for mothers dependent on methadone ranged from preterm labor and intrauterine growth restriction to an increased risk of stillbirth and maternal death, though the latter were still very rare.

However, the study has several limitations that should be considered, Robert Newman, M.D., M.P.H., director of The Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay. “The study makes no distinction between dependence on appropriately prescribed, medically indicated opioids and that associated with self-administered opioids taken under potentially very hazardous circumstances,” he said. “The different consequences for the expectant mother and unborn child are enormous.”

The study authors agreed that “we were not able to distinguish between women who were dependent on or abuse prescription opioids, those who were enrolled in opioid maintenance programs (e.g., with methadone or buprenorphine), and those who abused heroin.”

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