Painkillers In Pregnancy Common, Harmful to Baby

narcotic painkillers

Use of prescription narcotic painkillers is common in pregnancy and increases the likelihood a baby will be born small or early, or go through painful drug withdrawal, a new study finds.

These prescription painkillers, also called opioids, include drugs such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin), codeine and morphine. Nearly 30 percent of the Tennessee mothers-to-be in the new study used at least one of these drugs while pregnant, and the associated risks went up if they also smoked or took antidepressants.

“I was surprised by the number of women prescribed opioid pain relievers in pregnancy,” said lead author Dr. Stephen 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.”

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a collection of problems suffered by newborns exposed to addictive drugs in the womb.

With rates of prescription painkiller abuse surging in the United States in recent years, experts have been increasingly concerned about potential effects on newborns. Past research has shown the percentage of women taking prescription painkillers during pregnancy has doubled over the past 15 years.

For the new study, published online April 13 in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 112,000 women on the Tennessee Medicaid program between 2009 and 2011. Of these, about 28 percent filled a prescription for at least one narcotic painkiller.

The vast majority took short-acting medications, such as hydrocodone or oxycodone. Only 3 percent were on maintenance therapy for addiction to illegal narcotics, such as heroin.

“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.”

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SOURCE: WebMD News from HealthDay
Tara Haelle

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