Study Finds Pregnant Women Unknowingly Exposing Their Unborn Children to Opioids

pregnantThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data late last month that narcotic painkillers are commonly prescribed for reproductive-age women, and can cause birth defects.

Study Research Results

The research found that 39 percent of women ages 15 to 44 years-old on Medicaid, and 28 percent of privately insured women in the same age group received a prescription for opioids during 2008-2012.

Director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, said that many reproductive-age women taking these medicines and not knowing they are pregnant may unknowingly expose their unborn child.

Hydrocodone, oxcycodone and codeine were the most commonly prescribed opioid drugs.

Opioid use is cited as doubling the risk of birth defects such and congenital heart defects, spina bifida, and gastroschisis (defect in which part of the intestines protrude through a separation in the abdominal wall). It requires surgical intervention to repair.

Gastroschisis and spina bifida occurs in less than 2,000 births per year.  More common are congenital heart defects, which occur in approximately 9 out of 1,000 births.

Study co-author, CDC pharmacist Jennifer Lind, notes that these women are being exposed to the opioid risks before knowing they are pregnant.  She cites the first trimester of pregnancy as a critical window of time in such instances.

Prescription opioid use exploded throughout the past 15 years, due in part to a push by a network of pain organizations for more liberal use of these drugs in the treatment of chronic pain. Despite lack of evidence of opioid safety and effectiveness in the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, the explosive growth in prescribing occurred.

According to one Medical College of Wisconsin assistant professor of maternal and fetal medicine, Cresta Jones, the research study report shows-up the need to make women aware of opioid risk during pregnancy, just as they are made aware of the risks for alcohol use and smoking during pregnancy.

Additional Findings

Research only recently linked opioids and birth defects.  According to Jones, who works with opioid-dependent pregnant women in her hospital practice, quantifying risk data is limited.  She notes some women may be in need of a short course of opioids in certain situations, citing those suffering from sickle cell anemia or having undergone emergency surgery during their pregnancy.

Jones points out that any amount of the opioid drugs is too much if not a necessity for the health of a patient.

A 2014 paper featured in the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal reported that in 2007, 22 percent of pregnant women covered by Medicaid had filled a prescription for opioids during their pregnancy.

Researchers studied more recent opioid use in reproductive-age women by looking at private insurance and Medicaid prescriptions claims data.  Approximately 6.5 million private insurance-paid prescriptions and 800,000 Medicaid-paid prescriptions were analyzed.

According to researchers, the higher rate of Medicaid enrollee prescriptions was of concern, as approximately half of the U.S births occur amongst them.

Prescriptions for opioids were found to be highest in 2009, with 41 percent of Medicaid insured and 29 percent of privately insured women ages 15 to 44 years-old receiving at least one opioid prescription.

The privately insured received an average of 2.6 prescriptions. The Medicaid insured received an average of 4.3 prescriptions.

Potential reasons posed by researchers for Medicaid’s higher prescribing rates were differences in the use of health-care services, insurance coverage, and the possible underlying differences in health conditions.

Drug prevention education on the dangers and risks of opioid use during pregnancy is vital to preserving the health and wellbeing of both the pregnant mother and her unborn child.Bottom of Form

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