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Pregnant Women Prescribed Narcotic Pain Pills, Study Reports

Update Date: Feb 15, 2014 10:35 AM EST

During pregnancy, women are often recommended to avoid certain medications, foods and drinks in order to reduce any risk of complications during pregnancy. Poor nutrition could also lead to health problems for the unborn child. In a new study, researchers examined pregnant women's use of narcotic pain medications and discovered that over 14 percent of the women in the U.S. take these pills during pregnancy.

According to the researchers, narcotic painkillers are often prescribed for pregnant women even though these types of drugs can cause addiction. For this study, the researchers analyzed narcotic painkiller use, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, in over 530,000 women. The women had given birth from 2005 to 2011 with the average age of 31. The researchers were able to review the types of medications the women were prescribed from the women's commercial insurance plans.

The researchers discovered that women took narcotic painkillers did so for less than one week. Roughly six percent of the women were prescribed the painkillers during their first or second trimester. Around 6.5 percent of women were prescribed these medications during their third trimester. 2.2 percent of the women had been prescribed narcotic pain pills three or more times throughout their pregnancy.

"Nearly all women experience some pain during pregnancy," study author Dr. Brian Bateman, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said reported by Medical Xpress. "However, the safety of using opioids to manage their pain remains unclear. Ultimately, we need more data to assess the risk/benefit ratio of prescribing these drugs to women and how it may affect their babies."

The researchers reported that 37 percent of the women, which is the highest percentage, stated that they suffered from back pain. Aside from back pain, women also reported abdominal pain, migraine, joint pain and fibromyalgia. The researchers found that the most commonly prescribed drug at 6.8 percent was hydrocodone. 6.1 percent of the women took codeine, two percent took oxycodone, and 1.6 percent took propoxyphene. Even though prescription drug use is relatively common, the researchers of this study believe that more research should be done in regards to the safety of taking these drugs during pregnancy.

The findings were published in Anesthesiology.

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