The rate of unintended pregnancy among opioid-dependent women is extremely high: nearly 9 of every 10 pregnant opioid-dependent women report that the current pregnancy was unintended, a rate 2-3 times that of the general population. Despite these dire statistics, there is a dearth of scientific knowledge about contraceptive use in this population. The limited research available indicates that 75% of opioid-maintained (OM) women either use no contraception (45%) or less effective methods like condoms (30%). Development of interventions to increase contraceptive use among opioid- and other drug-dependent populations, driven primarily by efforts to reduce sexual HIV transmission rather than pregnancy prevention, has focused on condom use. However, the modest increases in condom use produced by existing interventions underscore the urgent need to develop other approaches that specifically target pregnancy prevention and promote the use of more effective contraceptives (e.g., birth control pills, IUDs, implants).
The aim of this Stage I Behavioral and Integrative Treatment Development Program application is to develop and pilot test a novel contraceptive management program to increase use of more effective contraceptives among OM women. OM women (N=100) at risk for unintended pregnancy will be randomly assigned to a 6-month contraceptive management program or to usual care. The contraceptive management program will consist of two components: (1) the World Health Organization's contraception protocol and (2) reinforced follow-up visits. At their first visit, participants assigned to the contraceptive management program will complete the WHO's contraception protocol, which consists of assistance choosing a contraceptive method, structured educational counseling about their chosen method, a free supply of this method, and the option of initiating their chosen method immediately at an initial contraceptive assessment visit. Subsequently, contraceptive management program participants will earn voucher-based incentives to reinforce attendance at follow-up visits where they will receive support to manage side effects and problem-solve compliance problems, refills of their chosen method, and assistance switching methods when indicated. Participants assigned to the usual care condition will be given general information about contraceptive options and contact information for clinics and providers that provide contraceptive services. Contraceptive use by all participants will be evaluated at assessments scheduled 1, 3, and 6 months after trial intake. The proposed project will be the seminal study of an intervention to increase more effective contraceptive use in OM women and the first step towards the overarching goal of developing an efficacious, empirically based contraceptive management program that can be disseminated to drug treatment facilities throughout the country. The proposed research also holds significant potential for impacting public health in general, as development of efficacious programs will help reduce the vast economic and societal costs associated with unintended pregnancy among drug-dependent and non-drug-dependent women alike.

Public Health Relevance

Nearly 9 of every 10 pregnant opioid-dependent women report that the current pregnancy was unintended and the majority of non-pregnant, opioid-maintained women do not use contraception or use less effective methods like condoms. The primary aim of this application is to develop and test a novel contraceptive management program to increase use of more effective contraceptives among opioid-maintained women. The proposed research may reduce unintended pregnancy among opioid-dependent women and the knowledge gained will also have implications for addressing high rates of unintended pregnancy in the general population.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Planning Grant (R34)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-RPIA-K (09))
Program Officer
Aklin, Will
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Vermont & St Agric College
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Heil, Sarah H; Hand, Dennis J; Sigmon, Stacey C et al. (2016) Using behavioral economic theory to increase use of effective contraceptives among opioid-maintained women at risk of unintended pregnancy. Prev Med 92:62-67
Meyer, Marjorie C; Johnston, Anne M; Crocker, Abigail M et al. (2015) Methadone and buprenorphine for opioid dependence during pregnancy: a retrospective cohort study. J Addict Med 9:81-6
Herrmann, Evan S; Hand, Dennis J; Johnson, Matthew W et al. (2014) Examining delay discounting of condom-protected sex among opioid-dependent women and non-drug-using control women. Drug Alcohol Depend 144:53-60
Hand, Dennis J; Heil, Sarah H; Sigmon, Stacey C et al. (2014) Improving medicaid health incentives programs: lessons from substance abuse treatment research. Prev Med 63:87-9
Heil, Sarah H; Gaalema, Diann E; Herrmann, Evan S (2012) Incentives to promote family planning. Prev Med 55 Suppl:S106-12
Heil, Sarah H; Higgins, Stephen T (2012) The scientific and ethical rationale for using incentives to promote contraceptive use among drug-abusing women. Addiction 107:1044-6