Government and Regulations

Overprescription of Opioids in Women of Childbearing Age

According to this CDC study, opioid prescription rates varied based on region, ethnicity, and insurance enrollment.


Despite the risks of birth defects and other complications, opioids are prescribed for > 33% of reproductive-aged women enrolled in Medicaid and 28% of those with private insurance, according to a study by the CDC.

Related: Acute Upper Abdominal Pain in Early Pregnancy

“Many women taking these medicines may not know they are pregnant,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “That’s why it’s critical for health care professionals to take a thorough health assessment before prescribing these medicines to women of reproductive age."

Related: Reducing Opioid Use for Chronic Pain

Studies have suggested that giving opioids to women who are pregnant raises the risks of neural tube defects, congenital heart defects, and gastroschisis, as well as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Related: Maternal Morbidity: Higher Risks for Minorities

In the CDC study, researchers looked at data from health insurance claims from 2008 to 2012 and from Medicaid. The most frequently prescribed opioids were hydrocodone, codeine, and oxycodone. Prescription rates for women of reproductive age were highest in the South and lowest in the northeastern U.S. Prescriptions were nearly 1.5 times higher for white women compared with that of black or Hispanic women. The consistently higher rate of prescribing to Medicaid-enrolled women is of concern, the researchers say, because about 50% of U.S. births are in that group.

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