Prescription Drug Use During Pregnancy

Prescription Drug Use During Pregnancy

Large numbers of pregnant women are being prescribed opioid drugs despite the possible risk to the developing fetus. This is an alarming trend that several recent studies have brought to light.

Published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers found that Medicaid covers 45 percent of all births in the United States. They also noted in 2007, nearly 23 percent of the pregnant women filled an opioid prescription, which is the largest percentage to date.  Researchers were very surprised to find that one out of five pregnant women using opioid prescriptions.

In February, another study published in Anesthesiology found on average 14% of women using private insurance took opioid medications at least once during pregnancy.

Martha M. Werler, the senior author and a professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, believes in the danger of drug use by women and warns,

“Opioid use in very early pregnancy is associated with an approximate doubling the risk of neural tube defects (which are malformations of the brain, spine or spinal cord).  About half of pregnancies are not planned, so that’s a big chunk of women who may not be thinking about possible risks associated with their behavior.”

In the past three decades, prescription opioid use has increase to more than 60% by women in their first trimester. Considering all the warnings about not eating foods like shellfish or sushi, not drinking even small amounts of alcohol, not taking aspirin or having a cup of coffee, it is surprising that so many women are using these type drugs.

Perhaps even more surprising is that doctors are prescribing them. Granted, they must deal with the American expectation of immediate pain relief, but there are other successful alternatives to using a narcotic during pregnancy. Sometimes too, a woman must realize that some amount of discomfort is normal during pregnancy.

Empathy is very important and can go a long way in helping a pregnant patient in pain discuss a more holistic approach to meeting her pain relief needs. Prescription opioid drugs should only be used as a last resort after serious discussion with a health care professional.


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