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Opioids are drugs commonly prescribed for the management of moderate to severe pain, and they are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the U.S. Although opioid-based prescription drugs have been in use for a very long time, their effect on the development of an unborn fetus was not fully revealed to the public until recently.
For example, in 2011, a study sponsored by the Center for Disease Control was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology regarding the link between opioid painkillers and birth defects. The study evaluated birth data from 24,000 pregnant women in 10 different states and found that those who took prescription opioids were at a significantly greater risk of having a new born with birth defects. According to the study, the birth defects with the highest incidence rates were:
Congenital heart defects:
Neural tube defects:
The greatest risk to the fetus occurs during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Newborns may also experience withdrawal symptoms if their mothers took opioid medications during pregnancy. Opioid-withdrawn newborns oftentimes experience symptoms for several months, including seizures. Premature birth and poor intrauterine growth may also result from an expectant mother using opioids.
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