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HEALTH ISSUE Pregnant Women Taking Painkillers

August 3, 2014
Plain English Version

pregnant painkillersPregnant women are smoking less, drinking coffee and alcohol less and watching their diets. What they are doing more of, however, is taking painkillers. Researchers are alarmed.

Medicaid pays for almost half the births in the United States. A 2007 study of pregnant women on Medicaid found nearly 23 percent had filled an opioid prescription. This was up from 18.5 percent in 2000.

A recent study of women with private health insurance showed that 14 percent of the women took a painkiller. The number of women who took opioids went down from 2005 to 2011. Now it is rising slightly.

A doctor said, “To hear that there is such a high use of narcotics in pregnancy when I see so many women who worry about a cup of coffee seems puzzling.”

The most prescribed drugs were codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone. Most women took the drugs for a week or less.

In the Medicaid study rates were highest in Southern states and lowest in Northeastern states. The highest states were 42 percent in Utah and 36 percent in Idaho. The lowest were 9 percent each in Oregon and New York.

There were differences among counties within the same state.

The effect of opioids on fetuses is not fully known. There is a link between the use of opioids and neural tube defects. Some babies are born addicted to painkillers.

Doctors worry most about their use during the first trimester. Experts say pregnant women in their first trimester are using more drugs.

A website called Treating for Two discusses the use of drugs during pregnancy.

Doctors are not sure why women are taking painkillers. They say pregnancy can be uncomfortable for a number of reasons. Some think obese women are more likely to be in pain.

Studies show painkillers were used most often by women with back and abdominal pain. Doctors recommend physical therapy for those problems.

Some say pregnant women do not want to suffer. One doctor said, “It is taboo to tell a patient, ‘it is normal for you to be uncomfortable in pregnancy.’ ”

Source: The New York Times                                                                  April 13, 2014

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