• Opioid use puts pregnant women and infants at risk
  • February 20, 2015
  • Law Firm: Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh Jardine P.C. - Englewood Office
  • According to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid use has become widespread in the U.S., causing serious health concerns, especially for pregnant women and newborns.

    Opioids are pain medications, such as hydrocodone or codeine, which require prescriptions. The rate at which these medications are being taken has increased in recent years, with a separate report from the CDC pointing to the medications being a main culprit in overdoses. In 2013 there were 22,767 deaths caused by pharmaceutical overdoses, and more than 71 percent of those, or 16,235, were directly related to opioids.

    While these numbers are startling, the CDC's latest report demonstrates pregnant women are at significant risk while using these substances. In fact, opioid use by pregnant women can double the risk of birth defects, including congenital heart defects and gastroschisis, a condition in which babies are born with their intestines protruding from their bodies.

    "Many women of reproductive age are taking these medicines and may not know they are pregnant and therefore may be unknowingly exposing their unborn child," said Tom Frieden, CDC director. "That's why it's critical for health care professionals to take a thorough health assessment before prescribing these medicines to women of reproductive age."

    Other side effects
    According to Forbes, congenital heart defects are the most common issue affiliated with expectant mothers taking opioids during their pregnancy. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute noted this condition means there is structural weakening of the infant's heart, whether the defect is located in the heart's interior walls, valves or arteries used to carry blood.

    However, congenital heart defects are not the only risk affiliated with taking opioids while pregnant. Forbes noted neonatal abstinence syndrome is common as well, which is a condition in which the baby undergoes opioid withdrawals after being born. This requires the infant to remain in the hospital and receive treatment.

    "We have seen more babies going through the withdrawal syndrome because of the exposure to opioid medications," Dr. David Mendez, neonatologist at Miami Children's Hospital, told NBC News.

    Other risks include major defects to an infant's brain, spine and heart, reported NBC News. And it is important to note the risks don't end at birth either. Women taking painkillers while pregnant sometimes have difficulty stopping after the baby is born, as opioids can be highly addictive.