Doctors are prescribing opioid painkillers to pregnant women in astonishing numbers, new research shows, even though risks to the developing fetus are largely unknown.Wow, I thought that pregnant women were scrupulous about avoiding drugs, out of maternal instincts. I had no idea that physicians were so actively giving opioids to them.
Of 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, according to a study published last week in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. That percentage is the largest to date of opioid prescriptions among pregnant women. Medicaid covers the medical expenses for 45 percent of births in the United States.
The lead author, Rishi J. Desai, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said he had expected to “see some increase in trend, but not this magnitude.”
“One in five women using opioids during pregnancy is definitely surprising,” he added.
In February, a study of 500,000 privately insured women found that 14 percent were dispensed opioid painkillers at least once during pregnancy.
Update: Another study warns about harms from pregnant women taking anti-depressants like Prozac:
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are calling attention to a new study linking anti-depressants with autism.
Published online earlier this week in the journal Pediatrics, the study was joint effort between researchers at Bloomberg and at the University of California at Davis' MIND Institute.
"This research also highlights the challenge for women and their physicians to balance the risks versus the benefits of taking these medications," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a researcher at the MIND Institute, "given that a mother's underlying mental-health conditions also may pose a risk, both to herself and her child."
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are the most popular class of drugs prescribed for depression and anxiety symptoms -- endorsed by doctors for their high rate of success and relative safety. But for pregnant moms, SSRIs may put their baby-on-board at risk.
In a study of nearly 1,000 mothers and their children, researchers found a strong connection between prenatal SSRI exposure and developmental problems, including autism, in boys.