Women Warned About Risks of Birth Defects from Opioid Painkillers

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid painkillers double the risk of birth defects in pregnant women – an alarming fact considering that more and more women, ages 15 to 44, are being prescribed narcotic painkillers in the United States.

In a recent study, the CDC found that roughly 39 percent of pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid and 28 percent of those enrolled in private insurance were prescribed opioids despite the well-known risks to the developing fetus.

Opioid painkillers, such as codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone, are prescribed to treat moderate to acute pain.  However, due to their highly addictive properties, the development of a physical dependence on opioids is a common issue, and well known to healthcare providers.

Overuse of prescription painkillers has become a serious, life-threatening problem throughout the United States.  The number of addictions, deaths, and even motor vehicle and other accidents associated with the use of the referenced narcotics continues to rise. Federal officials reported that more than 38,000 people died from prescription drug overdoses in 2010. The further birth defect risk is also very well established and documented in the medical community.

When taken during the first weeks of pregnancy, opioids can cause serious birth defects, including but not limited to Spina Bifida, congenital heart defects and gastroschisis.  In addition, the use of these drugs may cause preterm birth.  “That’s why it’s critical for health care professionals to take a thorough health assessment before prescribing these medicines to women of reproductive age,” according to CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden. “These are dangerous drugs that are addictive, and we are substantially overusing them,” Dr. Frieden said.

Health officials strongly urge doctors to recommend over-the-counter medications rather than narcotic painkillers when appropriate, especially to women of childbearing age.

Medical professionals are required to discuss the risks and benefits of treatment options with their patients. When considering such highly addictive and potentially harmful drugs as opioid painkillers, doctors must discuss the potential for pregnancy, and should test women to rule out pregnancy prior to commencing opioid therapy.

Once established as pregnant, a patient should be further consulted with by their healthcare providers with regard to medication options, as well as the risks of birth defects from opioid drugs.  If a pregnant patient is prescribed opioids, healthcare providers should perform proper, adequate and timely diagnostic studies throughout the pregnancy, to determine if there have been any deleterious effect on the fetus.

If you believe your child has suffered a birth defect as a result of negligent medical care, the New Jersey birth injury attorneys at Blume Forte Fried Zerres & Molinari can provide compassionate legal guidance and experienced representation.  Call 973-845-4421 to schedule an appointment.

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