babyThe prescription drug abuse epidemic in America has devastated the lives of people in every demographic. One group that has been affected is women of reproductive age, which is troubling due to the risks for birth defects. Prescription drugs, like all mind altering substances carry with them the chance of seriously affecting a baby’s health. New research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly one-third of women of reproductive age were prescribed an opioid painkiller every year from 2008 to 2012, The New York Times reports.

Federal health authorities reported that 39 percent of women ages 15 to 44 on Medicaid, and 28 percent of women with private insurance, filled a prescription opioid in a pharmacy during that time period. The opioids most commonly prescribed for both groups were:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Codeine (Tylenol 3)

“These are dangerous drugs that are addictive, and we are substantially overusing them,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden. He pointed out that women are often unaware they are pregnant in the early weeks of a pregnancy, a crucial time for organ formation. Pregnant women taking prescription opioids, could be “unknowingly exposing their unborn child,” he said.

The use of prescription opioids during pregnancy increases the risks of:

    • Brain Defects
    • Spine Defects
    • Congenital Heart Defects
    • Abdominal Wall Defects

Mothers taking opioids while pregnant also increase the risk that their child will be born dependent to the drugs, often requiring weeks in the hospital for detoxification. The disorder is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), when the baby is born they are no longer receiving a supply of the drug causing withdrawal to ensue. In fact, Scioto County in southeast Ohio, reports that about one in 10 babies are born addicted, according to the article.