Prenatal Drug Abuse Can Include Prescriptions

by Guest Blogger on August 9, 2012 · 1 comment

in Pregnancy & Childbirth

Pregnancy is joyful time in many mothers’ lives.  A mom anticipates her baby’s arrival and enjoys many indescribable moments: feeling the baby’s first movements, hearing the baby’s heartbeat, and seeing those first ultrasound pictures. It is also a time for the future mother to begin caring for her baby.

Prenatal care is incredibly important. Regular doctor’s visits, proper nutrition, and prenatal vitamins are some of the routine steps that may be considered common sense. There are other things, however, that factor into the health of mother and baby.

Symptoms of neonatal drug withdrawal can begin as early as 1 to 3 days after birth, but may take up to 5 to 7 days to appear. Some symptoms are tremors, irritability, high pitched crying, increased muscle tone, diarrhea, poor feeding, sleeping problems, and frequent yawning and sneezing.

Nearly four percent of pregnant women in the United States use illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin. As most people are already aware, taking illicit drugs is severely harmful to mother and baby. According to the March of Dimes, some studies suggest that the prenatal use of marijuana can slow fetal growth, increase the likelihood of a premature birth, and/or cause withdrawal-like symptoms in the newborn infant such as excessive crying and trembling. Long-term effects to the child may be a lack of ability to focus. Effects of methamphetamines may include low birth weight, premature birth, placental problems, heart defects, and cleft lip/palate.

Prescription Drugs Can Also be Abused
What you might not know is that prenatal drug abuse can include prescription drugs too. Some women may believe that because a drug is prescribed by a doctor, it is not harmful to their unborn children. This is not the case. Prescription drug abuse is at an all time high, and rates of prescription drug abuse in women have increased. Popular prescription drugs are Morphine, Codeine, Vicodin, Demerol OxyContin, and Percocet. Anything that a pregnant woman ingests reaches her unborn child through the placenta. Even maintenance prescriptions should be discussed with the physician.

Risks for Mom and Baby
The effect prescription drugs will have on an unborn baby depends on the type of drug and the stage of pregnancy when the drug is taken. Drugs meant to restrict blood flow can damage the placenta and cause the baby to be malnourished. Other outcomes of prescription drug abuse can include uterus contractions causing pre-term labor, birth defects, low birth weight, miscarriage, and stillbirth. This abuse also puts the mother at risk because her body may become strained and compromised from the drug(s).

Babies born to mothers who regularly use drugs during pregnancy are usually dependent on the drug too, and they experience a variety of forms of withdrawal-like symptoms.  After birth, the baby will need to be closely monitored for signs of drug withdrawal. The baby will require an extended hospitalization for evaluation and treatment of drug withdrawal. The length of hospitalization may vary between days to months depending upon the severity of the baby’s symptoms.  Breastfeeding on a consistent basis can help to decrease a baby’s withdrawal.

How to Access Help
Simply stopping the drugs cold turkey is not the answer. Consulting a doctor is always the first necessary step. One of the hardest parts is admitting that there is a problem. During your prenatal visits, be honest with your health care provider about any drugs you are taking, including prescription drugs. You will likely be advised to seek treatment for your drug addiction for the sake of the baby. Drug detox is just too hazardous for the mother and baby, so a plan will be made for you and your baby.

If you are a patient who needs help with opiates (Subutex, Methadone, Morphine, Percocet, Vicodin, Opana, Heroin, Ultram, Dilaudid, Oxycodone, Oxycotin, or Fentanyl), alcohol or benzodiazephines (Valium, Ativan, or Xanax), call Summa’s Case Manager at 330-375-4075.

If you need help with cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines (crystal meth), amphetamines (speed), bath salts or inhalants, call the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADM) hotline at 330-996-7730.

The safest route, as always, is to ensure that the mother is drug-free and healthy before conception. In this way, mothers can take the best possible care of themselves and their unborn children.

Karen Frantz, BSN, RNC
Case Manager, Women’s Health Services
Summa Health System

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