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Many U.S. Women Prescribed Opioid Painkillers During Pregnancy

A large study published February 12th 2014 by the journal Anesthesiology says more than 14 percent of pregnant American women take narcotic opiate based painkillers during pregnancy. The opioid narcotic painkillers are very strong and since they may lead to addiction, the study wants more research to determine how dangerous this practice maybe to the unborn baby.

The study looked at opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin in more than 530,000 pregnant women who gave birth between 2005 and 2011 in the United States.“Nearly all women experience some pain during pregnancy,” study author Dr. Brian Bateman, an assistant professor at the prestigious Harvard Medical School, said in a journal news release. “However, the safety of using opioids to manage their pain remains unclear. Ultimately, we need more data to assess the risk/benefit ratio of prescribing these drugs to women and how it may affect their babies.”

Most of the women in the study took opioid painkillers for less than a week. Less than 6 percent of women in their first or second trimester were prescribed the painkillers, while 6.5 percent of women in their third trimester received the medications, according to the study. Researchers pointed out that 2.2 percent of women in the study received an opioid prescription three or more times during their pregnancy.

The study was conducted using a database on pregnant women enrolled in a commercial insurance plan. The researchers looked at what painkillers were being used, for what pain they were prescribed and how usage varied between regions in the United States.

Back pain was the most common reason for the painkillers to be prescribed, which affected 37 percent of the pregnant women. Other pain causing symptoms included abdominal pain, migraine, joint pain and fibromyalgia.

According to the study, prescription painkiller use is more common among American women than in Europe. Even more so, women from the South used the drugs more than women in other parts of the U.S. Women in Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama all had prescription rates of more than 20 percent, while women from the Northeast used them the least, at 6.5 percent.

Hydrocodone, also known as Vicodin, was the most prescribed drug the women used at 6.8 percent. 6.1 percent of women used Codeine, 2 percent took Oxycodone and 1.6 percent took Propoxyphene.

Previous studies done on this topic have had completely opposite outcomes. One study that was done from 1997-2005, linked prescription opioid use to some birth defects while other studies found no links. It seems somewhat suspicious to me that similar studies find different results. It makes you wonder who is conducting these studies and what benefit either side may have in their outcomes.

There is a lot of money in the pharmaceutical industry and it would never surprise to me to find corruption in scientific studies that can greatly impact a large amount of prescriptions written for a particular ailment. I am not a woman and can not tell a woman what to do during her pregnancy. I will never experience the pain they go through or what actions they should take to protect their unborn child. I do ask, is it worth the risk? If you or someone you know is pregnant and in pain, I would suggest looking at all narcotic free options first before deciding to take an opiate based painkiller.


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