Impact of Prescription Drug Abuse on Pregnant Women

Prescription drug abuse is an ever-growing problem in the United States, which has the potential to cause physical and emotional harm not only to the individual concerned but also to his or her loved ones. However, when it comes to a pregnant woman, the effect of prescription drugs can affect the unborn baby as well. Lately, there has been an upsurge in the number of pregnant women in America getting addicted to opioid medications, and thus, more and more babies have been experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms over the last few decades.

As per a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “Every hour a baby is born in the United States with symptoms of withdrawal from opiates – roughly 13,500 babies a year.” In medical terms, such a condition is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is characterized by seizures, breathing problems, dehydration, difficulty feeding and irritability in infants. Affected infants are often hospitalized for weeks, undergoing treatment with methadone or morphine to gradually get rid of the dependence on the medications that their mothers once abused.

Babies of mothers addicted to prescription drugs require tremendous nursing care

Studies have shown that on an average, infants spend about 16 days in the hospital, usually in neonatal intensive care units, which are considerably costly because of the specialized nursing care. “Since 2000, the length of time infants spend in the hospital has not decreased, and this suggests that doctors have not yet learned how to make treatment for withdrawal more efficient,” says Dr. Stephen Patrick, an author of the study and a neonatologist in the University of Michigan Health System.

“Babies of mothers addicted to prescription drugs require a tremendous amount of nursing care,” observes Dr. Mark L. Hudak, M.D., professor in the department of Pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Jacksonville. He recommended trying to soothe the babies by cuddling them and placing them in darkened rooms. If that fails, the newborns can be given methadone or morphine, depending on what they were exposed to while in the womb.

Treatment for pregnant women addicted to prescription drugs

Breaking free from addiction to prescription opioids is only possible through professional care. Unfortunately, an addiction can overwhelm the mind and thinking patterns of an individual to such an extent that it becomes extremely difficult for him or her to refrain from drug abuse on the basis of willpower alone.

Various treatment options for prescription addiction in pregnant women are:

Corrective medications: Methadone is generally the safest option for pregnant patients with an opioid addiction. Buprenorphine is another medication used to treat an addiction to opioids. Additionally, doctors may prescribe an antidepressant for those struggling with mood disorders after a complete psychological assessment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients to cope with various triggers, such as past traumatic events or emotions, which result in tendencies to abuse drugs. It also helps patients in identifying the negative and unhealthy thought patterns and converting them into more constructive and healthy ones.
Contingency management (CM): It helps in curbing drug abuse by offering tangible incentives for positive responses and healthy behaviors, encouraging affected women to complete the entire treatment successfully. For example, drug-free urine samples may earn reward points, which can be redeemed for shopping vouchers.
Leading an addiction-free life is possible
Pregnancy can compel many women to make serious changes to their lifestyle. Any woman who is battling with prescription drug abuse needs to seek immediate treatment because a drug addiction can jeopardize the health of both the mother and the child.