A startling number of women are taking opioid painkillers during their child-bearing years, according to a new study that warns of pregnancy complications and birth defects.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that more than a third of reproductive-age women on Medicaid and more than a quarter of those with private insurance filled a prescription for an opioid medication such as hydrocodone, codeine or oxycodone in 2008-2012.
“Taking opioid medications early in pregnancy can cause birth defects and serious problems for the infant and the mother,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. “Many women of reproductive age are taking these medicines and may not know they are pregnant and therefore may be unknowingly exposing their unborn child. 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.”
CDC researchers studied insurance data on women aged 15 to 44 and found 39 percent of those on Medicaid filled an opioid prescription compared to 28 percent of those with private insurance.
The gap could be due to multiple factors, including differences in underlying medical conditions among the Medicaid population versus women with private coverage.
Rates of opioid use were highest among reproductive-age women in the South and lowest in the Northeast, the CDC found.
Within the Medicaid population, white women were one-and-a-half times more likely than black or Hispanic women to fill opioid prescriptions.