Maternal drug-related death and suicide are leading causes of postpartum death in California


      Reducing maternal mortality is a priority in the United States and worldwide. Drug-related deaths and suicide may account for a substantial and growing portion of maternal deaths, yet information on the incidence of and sociodemographic variation in these deaths is scarce.


      We sought to examine incidence of drug-related and suicide deaths in the 12 months after delivery, including heterogeneity by sociodemographic factors. We also explored maternal decedents’ health care utilization prior to death.

      Study Design

      This retrospective, population-based cohort study followed up 1,059,713 women who delivered a live-born infant in California hospitals during 2010–2012 to ascertain maternal death. Analyses were conducted using statewide, all-payer, longitudinally-linked hospital and death data.


      A total of 300 women died during follow-up, a rate of 28.33 deaths per 100,000 person-years. The leading cause of death was obstetric-related problems (6.52 per 100,000 person-years). Drug-related deaths were the second leading cause of death (3.68 per 100,000 person-years), and suicide was the seventh leading cause (1.42 per 100,000 person-years); together these deaths comprised 18% of all maternal deaths. Non-Hispanic white women, Medicaid-insured women, and women residing in micropolitan areas were especially likely to die from drugs/suicide. Two thirds of women who died, including 74% of those who died by drugs/suicide, made ≥1 emergency department or hospital visit between their delivery and death.


      Deaths caused by drugs and suicide are a major contributor to mortality in the postpartum period and warrant increased clinical attention, including recognition by physicians and Maternal Mortality Review Committees as a medical cause of death. Importantly, emergency department and inpatient hospital visits may serve as a point of identification of, and eventually prevention for, women at risk for these deaths.

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