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September 18, 2013 — A study published by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has linked the use of opioid painkillers during pregnancy and birth defects. Researchers estimated a 2.2-fold increased risk of neural tube birth defects (such as spina bifida), or about 6 cases per 10,000 births.

The researchers’ conclusions were based on data from over 20,000 women who participated in the Slone Epidemiology Center Birth Defects Study between 1998 and 2010. The women were interviewed within 6 months of delivery and asked about their medication use during pregnancy.

The study included 13,405 women who had a baby with a neural tube birth defect and 7,125 women who had a baby without a birth defect. According to the researchers:

“A higher percentage of mothers of offsprings with neural tube defects (3.9%) reported using an opioid medication than mothers of offsprings in the nonmalformed control group (1.6%).

They estimated a 2.5-fold increased risk of spina bifida among infants exposed to an opioid painkiller during development.

OxyContin and Neural Tube Birth Defects

Birth defects of the neural tube affect the brain, spine, and/or spinal cord. They occur during the first month of fetal development, before most women know they are pregnant.

The Prescribing Information for OxyContin warns about the danger of using opioid painkillers at the end of pregnancy due to the risk of neonatal opiate withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). However, they do not warn about the potential risk of birth defects.

Types of neural tube birth defects include: