Opioid Exposure Could Induce Drug Withdrawal in Babies

Often considered a consequence of the mother's illegal drug use, drug withdrawal in babies may also be linked to legally obtained narcotics.

Often considered a consequence of the mother’s illegal drug use, drug withdrawal in babies may also be linked to legally obtained narcotics.

A recent study published in Pediatrics found pregnant women frequently receive prescriptions for opioid painkillers. In fact, 28% of the 112,029 expectant mothers in the study population filled at least 1 legitimate opioid prescription. The vast majority received short-acting opioids, while 2% received maintenance doses and <1% received long-acting ones.

In the study, babies exposed to opioids in the womb were more likely to have low birth weight, preterm births, respiratory distress, and complicated births than unexposed infants. Additionally, 65% of babies expressing a drug withdrawal syndrome known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) were born to mothers who legally filled prescriptions for opioids.

Lead study author Stephen Patrick, MD, MPH, MS, assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University, told Pharmacy Times that pharmacists are positioned to help prevent problems that may arise with maternal opioid use.

“Pharmacists play a key role in mitigating the effects of opioid pain reliever epidemic through their participation in state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and by being centers for opioid pain reliever disposal,” Dr. Patrick told Pharmacy Times. “I believe these primary prevention activities will help limit opioid-related complications for all populations, including mothers and their infants.”

In the study, expectant mothers who received prescriptions for opioids were more likely to have depression compared with those who did not. They were also more likely to have anxiety and smoke.

A pregnant woman’s opioid exposure, tobacco use, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use were all associated with a higher risk of her child developing NAS.

“All in all, we hope the study garners the attention of state and federal policy makers to highlight that the prescription opioid epidemic is having a tangible impact on both mothers and infants,” Dr. Patrick said in a press release.