NIDA editorial urges safer opioid prescribing practices for pregnant women


Baby bump

Recent research sheds light on the risks of prescribing opioids to pregnant women and their exposed infants – underscoring the importance of following good opioid prescription practices, according to an editorial published today in the British Medical Journal by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The editorial points out that the high rate of opioid prescriptions for pregnant women in the U.S. has been connected to a rise in the number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Estimates suggest that 14-22% of pregnant women have received an opioid prescription. Research has also found that the risk of NAS increases significantly with longer term opioid use or when use occurred late in pregnancy.   

In the editorial, Dr. Volkow emphasizes that the known association of opioids with NAS suggests that they should only be prescribed for short term use for pregnant women in severe pain. If long term use is unavoidable, such as for women in need of buprenorphine or methadone maintenance therapy for heroin addiction, then careful assessment and monitoring should be in place to minimize the risk of overdose, NAS and misuse.

Reference: “Opioids in pregnancy” by Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse and published online January 12, 2016 in the British Medical Journal.

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