In a troubling new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed that almost a third of all women of reproductive age had filled an opioid painkiller prescription every year between 2008 and 2012. Health officials warned that such a high prevalence of opioid usage raised the likelihood of birth defects.
Researchers poured over health insurance claims from both Medicaid and private insurance companies, focusing on women between the ages 15 and 44. They found that 39 percent of women on Medicaid filled an opioid prescription each year, compared to 28 percent of women with private health coverage.
Frequently women are unaware of a pregnancy for the first few weeks, an important time for organ formation. Taking opioid medications during these weeks exposes the baby to them, which can cause serious defects in the baby’s brain, spine, heart and abdominal wall.
CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden called the findings “astonishing,” adding, “These are dangerous drugs that are addictive, and we are substantially overusing them.”
The most frequently prescribed opioids were oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine. The South had the highest prescription rates, the Northeast the lowest. Older women were more likely to have higher prescription rates. Caucasian women filled opioid prescriptions one and a half times more often than African-American or Hispanic women.
Opioids cause 16,000 fatal overdoses in the U.S. every year, more than any other drug.
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