Federal regulation of a chemical used in the illegal manufacture of cocaine appears to have helped lower cocaine-related hospital stays for new mothers and babies in the United States.
Dr. Chris Delcher, and a team of researchers at the University of Florida and the University of North Texas in Fort Worth report in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health that maternal and infant hospital stays associated with cocaine use fell almost immediately after the federal government began regulating sodium permanganate — a key chemical needed to make cocaine. The regulation took effect in December 2006.
“This study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that federal efforts to reduce cocaine availability in the United States by regulating the ingredients used to manufacture it can result in large public health benefits,” said Delcher, an assistant professor in the department of health outcomes and policy in the UF College of Medicine, and a graduate of the UF doctoral program in epidemiology at the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine.
From 2002 through 2013, monthly cocaine-related hospital stays in the United States peaked at 1,922 for mothers and 948 for infants in September and October 2006. Soon after federal regulation of sodium permanganate took effect in late 2006, those numbers fell, decreasing by 221 for mothers and 128 for babies. The steepest declines in hospital stays for both mothers and babies occurred during the first two years after the regulation took effect.
Cocaine use by mothers during pregnancy can lead to placental complications, premature delivery and poor fetal growth.
To conduct this study, the research team compiled monthly counts of cocaine-related maternal and infant hospital stays from 2002 through 2013 using national data from the Health Care Cost and Utilization Project and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality’s National Inpatient Sample.
“We could not find evidence of a public health intervention, changes in hospital coding practices or economic recession impacts that could otherwise explain the magnitude of this decline,” the researchers wrote.
Delcher said the researchers’ use of medical diagnostic codes to identify cocaine-related hospital stays in the data might have underestimated the true number of cases.
The team noted that other factors also might have played a role in the decline in maternal and neonatal cocaine-related hospital stays during this time. For instance, efforts by the Colombian government to eradicate the coca plant from 2006 to 2011 also resulted in declines in production.
They also cautioned that while the federal regulation appears to have had a positive impact on maternal and infant hospital stays, the numbers could rise again if cocaine availability increases in the United States.