There’s a dangerous pregnancy trend in the U.S. right now. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), opioid use in pregnancy has escalated dramatically in recent years, paralleling the epidemic in the general population – meaning it is scarily growing at the same rate in pregnant women as in the general population.
To understand why this is happening, we need to offer a few definitions.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a type of medication that relieves pain and often have a calming effect. Doctors may prescribe opioids for people who have had surgery, dental work, or an injury. Prescribed opioids include oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and codeine.The illegal drug heroin is an opioid, too. Some prescription opioids, like fentanyl, are made and sold illegally.
Why is opioid misuse becoming more common?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this problem dates back to the late 1990s when pharmaceutical companies reassured doctors and patients prescription opioids were not addictive. As a result, opioid prescription rates rose and misuse of medications began before it was realized how dangerous and extremely addictive they could be. In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.
How Do I Know if I have Opioid Use Disorder?
Repeated opioid use can cause changes in your brain that make it hard to stop using. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may have an opioid addiction.
- Are you using more opioids than prescribed?
- Do you feel a strong urge to use opioids?
- Does your opioid use cause work, school or family problems?
- Do you need more opioids to get the same effect?
Dangers of Opioid Use During Pregnancy
Opioid use can cause significant problems for a baby in the early weeks of pregnancy, even before you know you’re pregnant. Pregnant women have an increased risk of serious complications, including the following:
- Placental abruption
- Fetal growth problems
- Preterm birth
During pregnancy, if the mother is taking opioids, the baby becomes dependent on the drug. So when the infant is born, the baby may have temporary withdrawal symptoms. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Symptoms of NAS can include the following:
- Shaking and tremors
- Poor feeding or sucking
- Sleep problems
Treatment with GRACE
Woman’s Hospital has a care coordination program for pregnant women struggling with opioid use disorder. The GRACE program, which stands for Guiding Recovery and Creating Empowerment.
Our team, which includes registered nurses and social workers, provides nonjudgmental, compassionate care to women that are struggling with this addiction. By working together, we coordinate the most individualized, appropriate care for women, including finding an OB and, if the patient desires, a physician/facility for medication assisted treatment (MAT). Plans are created depending on their identified needs and connect patients to appropriate resources. The GRACE team follows patients throughout the pregnancy up to six weeks postpartum.
For more information please visit our website at www.womans.org/GRACE.