Dangerous Rise in Opiate Use by Expecting Mothers

In our current society, people may often hold the belief that substance abuse and addiction only effects the person who is using mind-altering substances. However, this is generally not the case. Addiction has a way of reducing the quality of life of anyone that is addicted, as well as those who are close to an addict. In some individuals, this harm takes on a more physical manifestation, particularly if that person is an unborn child with a mother taking opiates. As unfortunate as these occurrences are, they are steadily growing in frequency.

In 2018, West Virginia providers wrote 69.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons, compared to the average U.S. rate of 51.4 prescriptions. This was among the top ten rates in the U.S. that year; however, it was also the lowest rate in the state since data became available in 2006.

Dangers and Birth Defects of Opiate Use

Prenatal use of opiates have shown to have severe consequences for unborn children. While taking an opiate just once may appear to be an isolated occurrence, but the consequences of using for the child may last for the rest of his/her life. The most common physical symptoms of birth defects due to opiate use include:

  • Spina befida (a neurological disorder in the child’s spine)
  • Hydrocephaly (a buildup of debilitating fluid in the child’s brain)
  • Glaucoma (a defect in the child’s eyes)
  • Gastroschisis (a defect in which the child’s intestines protrude outside the child’s abdomen)
  • Fatal Heart Defects (such as holes in the heart’s chambers, undeveloped heart, and/or compromised blood flow through the heart)

The Rise in Prenatal Opioid Use

These horrific side-effects are common occurrences in opiate usage for unborn children; but after looking at the growing statistics, these effects may soon be common occurrences in our general society. In contrast to only three years ago, opioid use has more quadrupled in frequency in pregnant female populations. Currently in 2015, it is already predicted that there will be even more occurrences of prenatal opiate use this year. This sharp increase of use under these circumstances should cause tremendous concern, as the ramifications of prenatal use would be disastrous to families across the nation.

What Should Be Done?

To assist in counteracting the prominence of this disastrous occurrence, people have been debating ways in which to spread education about these effects, as well as increasing access to treatment services to help expecting mothers and other individuals with opiate addiction and rehabilitation. Senator Edward Marky has proposed a bill that would assist in providing accessible care for these people.
“When effective medication-assisted treatment is made available, people’s lives can be saved,” Markey states, “Treatment for prescription drug and heroin addiction should not be harder to access than the actual drugs destroying lives and communities.”
With these treatment plans in its early stages, it may be encouraging to see these plans of assistance being able to help expecting mothers and other people in a time of great need. However, while treatment is a vital aspect, prevention is another element to look towards. Spreading the word about opiate use (whether the substance be heroin, or opiate-based pain killers) can possibly save families from a lifetime of medical problems, or even the lives of mother and child alike.

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