Use Caution When Prescribing Opioids for Young Women

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescribing opioid pain medications for women of childbearing age is a “significant public health concern.” Approximately one fourth of privately insured women aged 15 to 44 years and about one third of their counterparts insured by Medicaid filled a prescription for an opioid each year during 2008 to 2012.
According to CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, “Taking opioid medications early in pregnancy can cause birth defects and serious problems for the infant and the mother.” These include neural tube defects, congenital heart defects, and gastroschisis. There is also a risk for neonatal abstinence syndrome from opioid exposure in pregnancy. Dr. Frieden explained, “Many women of reproductive age are taking these medicines and may not know they are pregnant and therefore may be unknowingly exposing their unborn child. That’s why it’s critical for healthcare professionals to take a thorough health assessment before prescribing these medicines to women of reproductive age.” The most commonly prescribed opioids were hydrocodone, codeine, and oxycodone. In a recent safety communication, the US FDA urged clinicians to carefully weigh the benefits and risks of using prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines during pregnancy. The agency advises health care professionals to continue to follow the recommendations in the drug labels when prescribing pain medicines to pregnant patients. They advise pregnant women to consult with their healthcare professionals before taking any prescription or OTC medicine.

(Source: CDC; Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, January 23, 2015)

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