The findings of a new study have now revealed that the use of prescription narcotic painkillers during pregnancy could increase the likelihood of the baby being born small or early.
Also known as opioids, these prescription painkillers include drugs such as codeine, morphine and oxycodone, and the findings revealed that nearly 30 percent of moms-to-be in Tennessee used atleast one of these.
What’s more, the health risks associated with the use of these drugs rose if the women smoked or took antidepressant medications as well.
“I was surprised by the number of women prescribed opioid pain relievers in pregnancy,” the researchers said. “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 many problems affecting newborn babies due to exposure to addictive drugs while in the womb, and given the growing use of prescription painkillers in the United States recently, this condition seems to be affecting a number of babies.
Infact, the researchers have also found that the number of women taking prescription painkillers during pregnancy has doubled in the past 15 years. They analyzed the medical records of over 112,000 women and found that over 28% of them consumed atleast one narcotic painkiller.
“Some women need to take opioids in pregnancy to improve their infant’s outcome,” the researchers explained. “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 researchers found that the women who were prescribed these painkillers were much more likely to be white, and had headaches, migraines or any skeletal health problems. These women were also more likely to be affected by anxiety disorders and depression, and smoked tobacco as well.
Smoking and the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (a type of antidepressant) with these narcotics actually doubled the risk of newborn withdrawal, the researchers found.
“Infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome have longer, more complicated birth hospitalizations,” they added.
Infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome were twice as more likely to be born with a low birth weight, and were at a higher risk of being affected by seizures, feeding difficulties and respiratory conditions as well.
“This is a really sobering article that shows the dangers of opioid prescription use during pregnancy,” Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, commented. “With this increase in prescription painkiller use, we’re seeing an effect in our newborn population. If you think about how vulnerable our newborns are, this is really frightening.”
“Premature babies often have developmental delays and neurological problems, so anything you can do to reduce rates of prematurity, including avoiding opioids during pregnancy, you should,” the researchers added.