CDC Worries About Pregnant Women Taking Prescription Drugs

AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has conducted a survey of American women between 15 and 44 who have taken opioids, and the results show how pervasive and dangerous the problem has become among pregnant women.

The CDC reported that each year from 2008 through 2012, one-third of women receiving Medicaid compensation and one quarter of those with private insurance had taken opioids. That statistic troubles the medical community because about 50% of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, and if women take drugs during early pregnancy birth defects become far more likely.

Obstetricians and neonatologists assert that many pregnant women have consumed drugs such as Vicodin and Percocet after they became pregnant, some of them having become addicted. Dr. Neil S. Seligman, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Upstate New York, said worriedly, “I do see opioid use pretty frequently in my high-risk practice but patients often don’t have their first prenatal care appointment until the late first (trimester) or early second trimester, at which point the fetus is no longer susceptible to birth defects.” Seligman added that when pregnant women take opioids between the fourth and tenth weeks of pregnancy, birth defects are more prevalent. Seligman said 60 to 70% of heroin users’ babies require an average of one months’ treatment for withdrawal.

Seligman pointed out that the CDC report did not concern itself with pregnant women who took a single prescription of opioids, rather concentrating on chronic users. He said women who only took a single prescription for acute pain had little to worry about, “especially after the first trimester.”

The CDC stated that 39% of Medicaid-enrolled women took opioids bought from an outpatient pharmacy from 2008 through 2012; 28% of women with private insurance took opioids.

Birth defects from opioid use by pregnant women include damage to the brain, spine, and heart and may cause gastroschisis. The CDC reported in October that 1 in every 33 babies is born with birth defects in the United States each year, a total of 120,000 babies each year. The CDC warned in December that thalidomide (also known as Thalamid®) and isotretinoin (also known as Accutane®) can cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy.