Lacking an alternative, doctors are prescribing opioid-based drugs for pregnant women in pain

Medicine concept. Spilled pills from prescription bottle.Research published in May 2014 revealed considerable numbers of expectant mothers are taking opioid painkillers. Just overa fifth of the 1.1 million pregnant women enrolled in the US social healthcare program Medicaid received a prescription for these drugs in 2007.

These figures represent an 18.5% increase overthe number of prescriptions of opioids dispensed to pregnant women back in 2000. However, it appears doctors themselves aren’t aware of the extent to which their colleagues areprescribing opioid drugs – mainly codeine and hydrocodone – to pregnant women.

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the consumption of opioid drugs in the first two months of pregnancy can be a concern. Alongside researchers from Boston University, the CDC found that opioid usage could be linked to increased incidence of neural tube defects. Since women may not even be aware they are pregnant during this two-month window, this complicates guidelines for prescribers.

Another concern for doctors is the lack of alternatives on hand. According to Dr. George Saade, director of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, doctors can be unsure what to do when a pregnant women turns up at their practicein pain. Cited in The New York Times, he says: “If the pain is so severe that acetaminophen is not enough, we have no analgesic option besides opioids.”

While medical opinion appears split over to what extent opioid usage during certain stages of pregnancy is a concern, one thing is certain: there’s a need for the pharmaceutical communityto look into alternatives.

Have you prescribed or used opioids during pregnancy?

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