20 Aug More Pregnant Women Battling Addiction to Painkillers
Pregnant women have a lot of things to worry about, but drug addiction should not be one of them. Unfortunately, the ugly truth is that women can be addicted to drugs while pregnant and give birth to babies that are also dependent. One of the fastest growing addictions in the country, for all genders and ages, is a dependence on prescription painkillers. Pregnant women are not immune to it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 50,000 women overdosed on prescription painkillers between 1999 and 2010, which represents a 400 percent increase over that decade. Although the effects of this addiction on a woman and her baby can be devastating, health care professionals are finally taking note. More and more treatment centers are offering services for pregnant women hooked on painkillers, and more women are getting help.
Prescription Painkiller Epidemic
The CDC statistics on painkillers are bleak, and show that their abuse is reaching epidemic status. Men are still more likely to abuse and overdose on painkillers, but women are closing the gap rapidly. Many of issues are arising from the abundance of these narcotic, opioid painkillers like Vicodin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and others. More kids are accidentally being poisoned by them. Although the overdose rate for women increased more, deaths for men were up significantly too.
Women seem to be increasingly vulnerable to painkiller abuse and addiction because they are more likely to suffer from chronic pain. When women addicted to painkillers become pregnant, they do not necessarily stop using and the epidemic is now being seen in infants. Over 13,000 babies are born in the U.S. each year, already addicted to prescription painkillers. This number has been rising over the last several years.
Painkillers and Pregnancy
Women who are pregnant and abuse prescription painkillers put their babies at risk of developing something called neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, which is similar to fetal alcohol syndrome. NAS can be caused by any narcotic drug and can create symptoms in a baby like diarrhea, blotchy skin, excessive crying, fever, irritability, poor feeding, seizures, sleep problems and trembling. Essentially, the babies are born addicted to painkillers and face the pain and discomfort of withdrawal. NAS is more likely to occur in women who are abusing or are addicted to painkillers, but even responsible use of the drugs can lead to problems in the infant.
Treatment for Pregnant Women
As the numbers rise, treatment options expand. More care is being offered for pregnant women addicted to painkillers than ever before. Many of these treatment programs are housed in university hospitals and medical centers and are free. These clinics help addicted pregnant women with obstetric care as well as addiction counseling. They may even offer replacement drug therapy, such as doses of buprenorphine, which helps people stop using opioid drugs like narcotic painkillers.
The need for such care centers for these women and their vulnerable babies cannot be overstated. The sheer number of women needing care is not the only reason, though. Many physicians and obstetricians hesitate to treat patients who are addicted because of the complicating factors such as the addiction itself, personal factors and criminal records. These women may also have mental illnesses that complicate their situations even further.
Another hurdle for these women is that many may not be insured or may not be able to afford care that includes addiction treatment. They may also be ashamed of their problems and reluctant to seek help as a result. They may fear being prosecuted on drug charges or the rejection and social isolation that can happen when someone finds out they are addicted and pregnant.
Fortunately, the clinics dedicated to helping these women are seeing successes. The women who take advantage of them get the care they need to get off drugs and to ensure that their babies receive care as well. Some clinics report seeing fewer premature births, and babies being born at better weights, and many that are born not needing any special care.
In spite of the success stories, there are still failures. Many clinics see women sign up and never show for treatment. With more awareness of the growing problem of painkiller addictions, for everyone including pregnant women, more treatment should become available to help the most vulnerable people.
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