Are opioids safe during pregnancy? Research continues

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Opioids are commonly used drugs for conditions such as chronic pain but little accurate information is available regarding the impact of their use during pregnancy. 


There is limited knowledge of the damaging effects incurred by opioids during pregnancy in terms of birth defects, pregnancy outcomes and even long-term neurodevelopmental problems.The uncertainties surrounding opioids’ potentially damaging effects during pregnancy mean that they should be used very carefully.


Pregnant women are at high risk of being prescribed opioid medication inappropriately, previous research has found.


A US study in 2016 found that nearly 10 percent of women on Medicaid, the US health insurance plan, received a prescription for opioids during their pregnancy. The study also found that opioids were prescribed to 17.3% of women who were not on contraceptives, but who did not give birth during the reporting year. Among women who were on contraceptives or infertile, that figure was 27.3%. Overall, 20% of women of reproductive age had been prescribed opioids.


Opioids in pregnancy ‘need best practice prescribing’ say researchers.


“Although opioid prescribing is lowest for women who are pregnant, without further study it is not clear that all prescribing for these women remains best practice,” said lead author Brian Gallagher, program research specialist in the Office of Quality and Patient Safety at the New York State Department of Health.


A previous study had found almost 40 per cent of reproductive-aged women enrolled in Medicaid in a selection of U.S. states had been prescribed opioids.


It was announced recently that researchers across the US as well as Sweden have received grants totaling over $1.6 million to study the effects that opioid pain medications prescribed during pregnancy have on children. 


The researchers will seek to identify if there is a link  between mothers who use prescribed opioids for pain treatment during pregnancy and adverse outcomes in children, such as preterm birth, reduced fetal growth, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD. The work could provide doctors and pregnant women with better guidelines for their prescriptions, say researchers.


  • Access To Information
  • Maternal Health
  • Medication In Pregnancy
  • Research