A recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is calling attention to the high number of women in their childbearing years who are taking prescribed opiate-based painkillers. The report raises concerns over the increased risk of birth defects that these medications can cause, especially in the very early stages of pregnancy.
The Study’s Findings
The report’s data was obtained from insurance records dated between the years of 2008 and 2012. It revealed that in the population of women between the ages of 15 and 44, up to one-third of Medicaid patients filled a prescription for an opiate-based painkiller such as hydrocodone, codeine or oxycodone. When privately insured women of the same age were evaluated, up to a quarter had filled a prescription for one of the drugs.
Other statistics indicate that women in the south were more likely to use opiate-based painkillers, while women in the northeast were the least likely. In addition, Caucasian women were one and a half times more likely to have an opiate-based prescription than Hispanic or African American women. Privately insured women were most likely to take opiate-based medications between the ages of 30 and 34 years. Medicaid recipients were most likely to take opiates between the ages of 40 and 44.
It’s important to note the studies data was accumulated by measuring the number of outpatient prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers that were filled. It did not include other instances of opiate use, such as painkillers dispensed in an office visit, painkillers that were paid for without using insurance or illegal opiate painkiller usage. Therefore, it is likely that the rate of usage among women of reproductive age is actually higher than the study’s numbers indicate.
Opioid Dangers in Early Pregnancy
Opiate use in early pregnancy can cause numerous issues to both the developing fetus and the mother. One of the most severe complications is the occurrence of serious birth defects. Some of the birth defects that commonly occur in opiate-exposed fetuses are neural tube defects, gastroschisis, and congenital heart defects. These harmful effects often occur during the first few weeks of pregnancy, during which time organ development is at a critical stage. The CDC warns that many women who are unaware that they are pregnant and continue taking these drugs are at a very high risk of experiencing pregnancy complications.
Of particular concern is the higher incidence of opiate prescriptions among women who are enrolled in Medicaid. According to the CDC, approximately 50 percent of all U.S. births are to mothers enrolled in the Medicaid program.
Alternative Medication Use is Urged
During 2009 and 2012, there was a measurable decline in the number of prescriptions of opiate-based medications to women of reproductive age. However, the rates of prescriptions are still far too high given the complexity of issues that these drugs can cause. Physicians must thoroughly evaluate a woman’s health history and pregnancy plans before prescribing opiate-based painkillers. Women of reproductive age who are not using birth control or who plan to get pregnant should not receive these prescriptions. Given that at least half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, the CDC urges even more caution. Since even women who are not actively planning to become pregnant can be impacted by opiate-use, it is advised that they not take opiates. Physicians are urged to prescribe alternative medications that do not pose a risk to the developing fetus. When opiates are required, physicians must clearly explain the pregnancy risks associated with them before implementing a regime for female patients.
Waismann Medical Group has worked side-by-side with physicians from all over the U.S. to find safe, effective solutions for young patients who are still in their childbearing years. We know how harmful long-term opiate use is in young people and have developed safe, effective methods that show quick results. Let us show you how you can lead a full life free from opiates and pain.