Pregnant or Planning? You May Want to Avoid This Rx

Opioid prescription medications that may cause problems in pregnancy were common in women of reproductive age

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) In many cases, pregnancy and opioids don't mix. Still, many women may be prescribed these medications.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that many women of reproductive age were prescribed opioid medications.

The CDC noted that safer therapies are often available, and opioids are often unnecessary in pregnancy.

"Taking opioid medications early in pregnancy can cause birth defects and serious problems … it’s critical for health care professionals to take a thorough health assessment before prescribing these medicines to women of reproductive age,” said CDC Director Tom A. Frieden, MD, in a press release.

Jennifer N. Lind, PharmD, of the CDC's Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, and colleagues wrote this report.

Opioids are used to relieve pain. They include medicines like codeine and morphine. They also include hydrocodone (brand names Vicodin, Norco and Lortab) and oxycodone (OxyContin).

About half of all US pregnancies are unplanned, Dr. Lind and colleagues noted. In the first few weeks of pregnancy — when a woman may not even know she is pregnant — opioids may cause birth defects.

Dr. Lind and team used data from 2008 to 2012 to estimate how many women received prescriptions for opioids. The most commonly prescribed medications were hydrocodone, codeine and oxycodone.

In the 15 to 44 age group, 27.6 percent of privately insured women filled a prescription for an opioid. Among Medicaid-enrolled women, 39.4 percent filled a prescription for an opioid.

Women of reproductive age in the South had the highest prescription rates for opioids, Dr. Lind and team found. Those in the Northeast had the lowest rates.

Women who might become pregnant may have other options for pain. For instance, endometriosis — a condition in which uterine tissue grows outside the uterus and causes pain — can affect women of reproductive age. Over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen (Advil) may be effective for some women who have endometriosis, noted

Alternative therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic care have also been found to be helpful for endometriosis. Herbs like cinnamon twig or licorice root and supplements like thiamine (vitamin B-1), magnesium, or omega-3 fatty acids may also help. Always discuss alternative therapies like these with your doctor before you try them.

This report was published Jan. 23 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 22, 2015
Last Updated:
January 26, 2015