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According to a new study, women to take opioid painkillers such as Oxycodone early in pregnancy may be more likely to have a baby with a birth defect. The study found a doubled risk of a serious heart defect. There were also associations between Oxycodone and defects of the brain, abdomen, neural tube, and eyes. Researchers found that the risk was greatest when women took Oxycodone just before pregnancy, or during the first trimester.

UPDATE: Study Links Opioid Painkillers (OxyContin, Vicodin, etc.) to Neural Tube Birth Defects

September 18, 2013 – The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has published a study linking the use of opioid painkillers to a 2.2-fold increased risk of all birth defects, and a 2.5-fold increased risk of spina bifida. Click here to read more.

September 16, 2013 – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recommending that physicians should only prescribe long-acting/extended-release painkillers to people who have severe pain and need 24-hour around-the-clock medication to control severe, chronic pain. Click here to read more.

Oxycodone Overview

Oxycodone is an opioid-based narcotic painkiller similar to morphine, prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. It can be habit-forming, and when combined with alcohol, can cause severe side effects including death. Oxycodone is also sold in a time-release under the brand-name OxyContin.

The opioid-based painkillers are some of the most popular, common medications used to reduce pain. Opioid-based painkillers may also be found in certain types of cough medications. There is a long list of painkillers and medications with opioid ingredients, and some of the most popular are:

Oxycodone and Pregnancy

Because Oxycodone has been in use since the late 1930s, many people assume it is safe to use, even during pregnancy. Oxycodone is currently classified as Pregnancy Category B drug. This class means that the FDA believes that Oxycodone is not expected to harm a developing baby, and they say that it is safe to use. Unfortunately, there is growing scientific evidence suggesting that Oxycodone can actually cause harm to a developing baby, especially during the first 30 weeks of pregnancy.

Previous scientific studies had mostly inconsistent findings regarding the link between opioid painkillers and birth defects. Some had suggested a link between heart defects and oral clefts, but more research needed to be conducted.

Scientific Studies of Oxycodone During Pregnancy

Around 3% of the 4 million babies born every year in the United States have some type of birth defect, and around 1/3 of these defects are heart defects. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant death. In an effort to identify potential risk factors, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funded a study of information gathered in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, called “Maternal treatment with opioid analgesics and risk for birth defects.” The results of the study were published in April 2011 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The researchers analyzed information from 17,449 women who had a baby with a birth defect, of which 2.6% reported using an opioid painkiller during pregnancy. Only 2% of women whose babies had no birth defects reported using an opioid painkiller. Women whose babies had a heart defect were 1.4-times more likely to have taken an opioid. More than 2/3 of these women had taken wither codeine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone. Reasons included surgery, injuries, chronic diseases, and infections. Many women took these medications because they were unaware that these painkillers could potentially harm a developing fetus. They assumed that the medications were safe.

Oxycodone Birth Defects

Scientists found that women who took Oxycodone during pregnancy (especially just before pregnancy or during the first trimester) were more likely to have a baby with a birth defect. The defects identified in the study included:

  • Spina bifida (neural tube birth defect)
  • Hydrocephaly (excess fluid in the brain)
  • Glaucoma (eye defect)
  • Gastroschisis (abdominal wall defect; internal organs protrude outside the body)
  • Heart defects
  • Ventricular septal defect (hole in the wall between the lower-left and lower-right heart chamber)
  • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (severe under-development of the left side of the heart). The risk of this birth defect was doubled.
  • Atrial septal defect (hole in the wall between the upper-left and upper-right heart chamber)
  • Tetralogy of Fallot (four severe heart defects that cause low oxygen, major circulation problems)
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis (severe narrowing of the pulmonary heart valve)

Other scientific studies have found an increased risk of cleft lip and cleft palate, but the CDC study did not find this association. More research needs to be conducted. If your child had cleft lip, cleft palate, or other birth defect, your child’s injury may have been caused by Oxyocodone.