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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Risks of Using Opioids While Pregnant

The use of any mind altering substance can have serious affects on a fetus, leading to a host of birth defects such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. With the ever growing opioid crisis in America, more and more babies are being born that show signs of opioid exposure. New research indicates that women who use prescription opioids during pregnancy increase the risk that the baby will be born small or early, HealthDay reports. The babies are also more likely to go through drug withdrawal, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

A study of more than 112,000 pregnant women in Tennessee showed that almost 28 percent used at least one prescription opioid during the duration of their pregnancy, according to the article. What’s more, the researchers found 65 percent of mothers, who had babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome, legally filled prescriptions for opioid painkillers.

“Historically, drug withdrawal for newborns has been described among illicit drug use such as heroin or women treated for previous opioid abuse, but this is really one of the first studies to look at legal prescriptions for pregnant women,” lead author Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University in Nashville said in a news release.

"I was surprised by the number of women prescribed opioid pain relievers in pregnancy," said Patrick, a neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "I was also surprised by how commonly women smoked in pregnancy, and how much that increased the risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome among those who also used opioid pain relievers in pregnancy."

The study found 42 percent of the women prescribed opioids smoked during pregnancy, compared with 26 percent of the women not prescribed opioids, according to the report. Women who were prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants along with prescription opioids also doubled the risk of the syndrome.

“Infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome have longer, more complicated birth hospitalizations,” Patrick said. However, there are instances when women need to continue using opioids throughout the pregnancy.

"Some women need to take opioids in pregnancy to improve their infant's outcome," Patrick said. "For women with opioid dependency, we know that use of maintenance opioids like methadone decrease rates of preterm birth compared to heroin. For these women, neonatal abstinence syndrome may occur in their infants, but it is much better than the alternative, which is preterm birth."

The findings were published in Pediatrics.

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