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Health risks unknown for babies born to prescription drug-addicted mothers

Doctors at Oklahoma City hospitals have seen a noticeable increase in the number of babies born to mothers addicted to prescription pain pills.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: August 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm •  Published: August 12, 2013

Oklahoma's growing addiction to prescription pain narcotics is affecting the state's most vulnerable population: newborn babies.

Doctors at Oklahoma City hospitals have seen a noticeable increase in the number of babies born to mothers addicted to prescription pain pills.

And in some cases, a baby is born addicted to prescription drugs and requires methadone — a drug typically used to wean adults off heroin — to help the babies come down from their withdrawal of the drugs.

“Babies that have been born to drug-addicted mothers have had, for the last nine months or some time beforehand, a steady supply of that particular medication coming into them, and as long as they're getting that they're fairly happy,” said Dr. Doug Dannaway, a neonatologist at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center.

“All of a sudden, they're born and not getting that medication. Their body starts going into withdrawal, wanting to know what happened and where is it all.”

Oklahoma ranks among the highest in the nation in the number of people who abuse prescription pain narcotics, according to National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Five percent of Oklahomans 12 or older report using prescription pain relievers for a nonmedical reason.

Nationwide, about 42 women die every day from drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1999 and 2010, the number of prescription painkiller overdose deaths increased fivefold among women in the United States.

Previous research has shown that women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men, according to the CDC.

Studies also have shown that women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men and may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping,” obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers, according to the CDC.

More data needed

Although an increasing number of women are abusing prescription drugs, it's not clear what the long-term impact will be on their babies.

Dr. Anthony Shanbour describes himself as rather strict when it comes to his patients using prescription pain relievers while pregnant. He tries to persuade all of his pregnant patients to stop using prescription narcotics.

“I prefer none of my patients be on pain medications, but I know some will be,” Shanbour said. “Some have been (using) for years, and that's really hard, because now they're pregnant, what do you do? It wouldn't be like me or you that just takes pain medicine just when you need it. They have chronic problems, and it's really hard for them to be off.”

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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