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Many U.S. Women Get Opioids After Giving Birth
  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted July 26, 2019

Many U.S. Women Get Opioids After Giving Birth

Opioid painkillers were prescribed to nearly half of U.S. women who gave birth in recent years.

That's from a new study that found 1% to 2% of those women were still filling opioid prescriptions a year later. Those most likely to be doing so were women who were prescribed opioids before giving birth, and those who got the largest initial doses.

The findings are from a review of medical records for more than 308,000 women who gave birth in the United States between 2008 and 2016.

During that time, the percentage of women filling opioid prescriptions after delivery fell. The University of Michigan researchers suspect that's a result of increased awareness of the U.S. opioid epidemic.

They emphasized that there are effective alternatives to opioids for pain control for both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.

The study, published July 26 in the journal JAMA Network Open, included women with private insurance who hadn't received opioids for a year before delivering and who didn't have major complications or other procedures in the year after giving birth.

"Overall, we see rates of opioid persistence higher than previously documented for women having C-sections, at about 2%," said study author Dr. Alex Friedman Peahl, an obstetrician and health services researcher.

"For women who delivered vaginally, one-quarter received opioid prescriptions, although current guidelines call for a step-wise approach to pain management, starting with non-narcotic medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. One percent of vaginal birth mothers were still receiving opioids months later," she said in a university news release.

The researchers hope their findings will aid national groups that are working to promote alternatives for women giving birth.

Peahl said she tells women that pain after birth is like a mountain.

"Once you're at the peak, it is harder to get down," she said. "Using non-narcotic pain medications before opioids can help better manage your pain by preventing you from reaching that peak."

More information

The U.S. Office on Women's Health has more about labor and birth.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, July 26, 2019
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