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CDC Reports Opioid Addictions in Pregnant Women Quadrupled Over 15-Year Period

Pregnancy and opioid addiction is a harrowing crisis in the midst of a larger epidemic. A pregnant mother addicted to opioids faces serious risk, including stillbirth, early labor, and the potential of neonatal abstinence syndrome. Complications arising from births associated with opioid use disorder are risky—they can be fatal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released new reports revealing that the rate of opioid use disorders among pregnant women more than quadrupled from 1999 to 2014. The findings were published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“More and more women are presenting with opioid use disorder at labor and delivery,” said Dr. Wanda Barfield, director of the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health of the latest research.

The data represented findings from hospitals in 28 states over a 15-year period. In that time, the prevalence of opioid use disorders in women giving birth increased by 333%, which corresponds to 6.5 per 1,000 deliveries.

Risks of Opioid Addiction During Pregnancy   

Opioid addiction during pregnancy carries significant danger to both the mother’s and the baby’s health. The CDC lists the following risks for opioid use during pregnancy:

  • Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome
  • Stillbirth
  • Preterm delivery
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Neural tube defects

With the CDC reporting that nearly 6 of every 1,000 babies born in the US will suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome (or NAS), the need for specialized care has risen dramatically. The latest research indicated the highest rates of opioid-addicted mothers in Vermont and West Virginia.

How Do Opioids Affect an Unborn Child? 

When used during pregnancy, opioids may enter the fetal central nervous center. When a pregnant woman is dependent on opioids, the developing fetus is at risk for placental problems, growth restriction, and many other complications.

After birth, the infant may suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome. The symptoms associated with NAS normally begin within 72 hours of the birth.

As the baby withdraws from the narcotics she has been exposed to in-utero, she can develop a range of symptoms that include shaking, breathing problems, fevers, and poor feeding. Babies with this condition are likely to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit until they have recovered, which can take several weeks.

During this time babies will be closely monitored, treated with certain medications, and fed with high-calorie formulas to help them gain weight. Although long-term effects in children born with NAS are not fully understood, research from the National Institutes of Health indicates that developmental problems are common, including delay in motor skill development and language development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also indicates that children who suffered from NAS may have poor performance in school, as well as behavioral and mental health concerns, including a predisposition to future drug use.

Treating Addiction During Pregnancy

When a pregnant women dependent on opioids ceases opioid use, she risks going into early labor or suffering from a miscarriage. For this reason, highly specific treatment is needed for pregnant women who are addicted to opioids.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methadone and buprenorphine are both commonly used in treating pregnant women, with both treatments aiming to stabilize fetal levels of opioids. Each woman should work directly with a medical professional to determine the best course of action, as each treatment plan should be tailored to the individual, even more so when a high-risk pregnancy is involved.

With two lives at risk, treating opioid addiction during pregnancy should be handled with the appropriate level of caution.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who has been open about his own son’s drug overdose, released a statement regarding the latest report, saying, “These findings illustrate the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on families across the U.S., including on the very youngest. Untreated opioid use disorder during pregnancy can lead to heartbreaking results. Each case represents a mother, a child, and a family in need of continued treatment and support.”



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