Health Highlights: April 14, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Steep Rise in Narcotic Painkiller Prescriptions For Pregnant Women

A growing number of pregnant women in the United States are being prescribed powerful narcotic painkillers, even though little is known about the risks to a developing fetus.

The number of Medicaid-enrolled pregnant women who filled a prescription for such drugs rose from 18.5 percent in 2000 to nearly 23 percent in 2007, according to a study published last week in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, The New York Times reported.

Lead author Rishi Desai, a research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said he expected to find that the use of prescription opioids -- drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Percocet -- by pregnant women had increased, but not to this extent.

"One in five women using opioids during pregnancy is definitely surprising," he told The Times.

A study published in the journal Anesthesiology in February looked at 500,000 privately insured American women and found that 14 percent filled a prescription for opioid painkillers at least once during their pregnancy.

The findings surprised Dr. Joshua Copel, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine, who noted that many pregnant women make sure they avoid things such as caffeine, sushi and even cold cuts.

"To hear that there's such a high use of narcotics in pregnancy when I see so many women who worry about a cup of coffee seems incongruous," he told The Times.

Both studies found that codeine and hydrocodone were the opioids most often prescribed to pregnant women. Women typically took the drugs for a week or less, but slightly more than two percent took them for longer periods of time.

Opioid prescription rates among pregnant women were lowest in the Northeast and Northwest and highest in the South and mountain states. In the Medicaid-based study, opioid prescription rates for pregnant women were 41.6 percent and 35.6 percent in Idaho, compared with 9.6 percent in New York and 9.5 percent in Oregon.

"The regional variation really concerned me the most," Dr. Pamela Flood, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at Stanford University, told The Times. "It's hard to imagine that pregnant women in the South have all that much more pain than pregnant women in the Northeast."

Posted: April 2014


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