Why Are Pregnant Women Being Prescribed Opioids?
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Why Are Pregnant Women Being Prescribed Opioids?


Why Are Pregnant Women Being Prescribed Opioids?Given what we all know about the surge in opioid addiction in recent years—and make no mistake, it’s an ongoing problem, not a flash in the pan—maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising that more doctors have been prescribing opioids to pregnant women. Or…wait, what? Prescribing opioids to pregnant women? Okay, fine, maybe we should be a little bit surprised. Or, at least, I am. Shocked, even. It’s disturbing, no?

With Child and With Opioids

According to this New York Times article, docs are prescribing more opioids to pregnant women despite the fact that no one knows yet whether the drugs pose significant risks to the fetus. According to a study in Obstetrics and Gynecology, “1.1 million pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid nationally, nearly 23 percent filled an opioid prescription in 2007, up from 18.5 percent in 2000.”

That percentage is the highest to date of opioid scripts for women who are pregnant. And the opioids most prescribed were codeine and hydrocodone, though Oxycodone was also in the top four (!)

The lead author in the study, Rishi J. Desai of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, noted that he’d expected to see an increase but “not of this magnitude…One in five women using opioids during pregnancy is definitely surprising.”

Contradictory Cautions

Uh, we’ll say. Does it strike no one else as bizarre that pregnant women are routinely advised to avoid coffee, sushi, certain cheeses and other “vices” but that ingesting narcotics is apparently considered NBD, at least by some doctors?

At least one expert has his doubts (thank God for a sane person)! As Dr. Joshua A. Copel, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, said, “To hear that there’s such a high use of narcotics in pregnancy when I see so many women who worry about a cup of coffee seems incongruous.”

All that said, not many medications approved by the FDA since 1980 (fewer than 10 percent) “have sufficient data to determine fetal risk,” according to Cheryl S. Broussard, a health scientist at National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. So…what’s more alarming, the fact that so many medications have no data to back up safety claims for unborn children? Or the fact that a notoriously dangerous and addictive class of narcotic is seemingly being prescribed with nary a thought to the safety of both pregnant moms and their fetus? I guess it’s sort of like asking if Vicodin or Oxy is worse. It’s all bad news, whether you’re preggers or not.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.