In a nationwide inpatient sample analysis between the years 1998 and 2011, it was discovered that opioid dependence among pregnant women has more than doubled. Researchers found that opioid-dependent pregnant women are almost 5 times as likely to die during hospitalization and have longer hospital stays than expecting women who do not take opioids.
Researchers discovered that babies born to opioid-dependent women are twice as likely to suffer from poor growth rates or be delivered stillborn. Also, 60-70% of newborns born from women who used opioids required at least 30 days of intensive withdrawal treatment.
Recent research is suggesting that even prescription opioids may cause permanent damage to a fetus as it’s developing. One of the largest studies published on opioid use including data from almost 230,000 pregnancies. These revealed that birth defects may occur more often when the mothers are dependent on prescription opioid painkillers.
Opioid Use During Pregnancy Study
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists commissioned a gynecology study found that the following birth defects may have a higher chance of occurring:
- Congenital heart defects (CHDs)
- Neural tube defects (NTDs) – Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spinal cord, or spine.
The most common birth defects in the study include:
- Spina bifida, which is a condition where the fetal spinal column doesn’t close completely. The newborn is usually born with permanent nerve damage and some level of paralysis of the legs.
- Congenital heart defects include ventricular septal defects, atrial septal defects, and hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
- Chiari malformation is a condition that causes the brain tissue to develop in the spinal canal.
- Cleft lip/palate is an orofacial defect that occurs when the lip and/or palate do not fully fuse.
- Anencephaly is a condition where the full brain and skull do not develop. These babies are usually born stillborn or die shortly after birth.
- Clubfoot is a deformity where the infant’s feet are turned inward. It is often so severe that they cannot walk without requiring numerous extensive surgeries. This occurs when the tendons that connect the leg muscles to the foot bones do not fully develop.
Since this study is so recent, the exact rates of likely birth defect occurrence are unknown at this time. More studies will need to be performed over time.
Until this study, researchers had not examined in great detail the effects of opioid use in pregnant women. Actually, most opioid studies omit pregnant women altogether. This fact is startling and frankly, should be a reason for concern.
Opioid & Birth Defects
Birth defects can cause a child to suffer or even die while they are young. Many affect the child for their entire lives. Opioid-induced birth defects could have been prevented. If medical professionals and the pharmaceutical manufacturers informed pregnant mothers of the addictive nature and possible defects linked to opioid use, they may have sought alternative pain control options. If manufacturers told physicians of the risks, they may help expecting mothers not be addicted to opioid painkillers.
At the end of the day, it comes down to knowledge. If opioid manufacturers had taken the time to study the addictive properties of their drugs, and performed studies on pregnant women to understand the safety profile and and knew how long-term opioid use may affect a newborn child, expecting mothers would have more information. This information would be crucial to making informed decisions regarding the prescriptions they take.
Drug manufacturers lied to us about the addictive nature of opioids, and medical professionals prescribe them. Prescribing these drugs in high doses and for prolonged periods of time can lead to addiction and other devastating injuries. These include, among other adverse side effects, dependence, the craving to seek more drugs, use of other legal pain killers, use of other illegal drugs, and worst of all, overdose and death.
Doctors should only prescribe powerful opioid pain-killers such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, or methadone (drugs with common names such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin) for short term, intense pain, not to treat chronic pain conditions.
America’s opioid epidemic has affected, injured, or killed tens of thousands of Americans. It’s a national tragedy. All of these injuries could have been prevented. Drug manufacturers of opioid pain-killers have advertised their products as being less addictive than they actually are. Drug manufacturers have sometimes alleged that these drugs are safe to treat chronic pain. This marketing has lured scores of medication users and even doctors, into a false sense of security in using and prescribing such drugs.
If you or a loved one became addicted to an opioid, overdosed, hospitalized from an overdose, or used an opioid during pregnancy and the baby has a birth defect, contact us today. We have decades of experience going against pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers that produce unsafe products.