Painkiller addiction is at times thought of as a less dangerous substance dependence than compared to street drugs. But for a pregnant women, the dangers to the fetus can be pronounced. Should a miscarriage not occur, a baby born to a mother with a painkiller addiction is at much risk as “crack babies” and children with fetal alcohol syndrome. Pregnant women with painkiller addiction need to realize that the the baby in the womb can become addicted to painkillers. They will also show withdrawal symptoms and exhibit cravings while still in the uterus. Sometimes the only way to manage the situation is for the mother to continue using painkillers but only under strict medical supervision.
Baby in the womb with addiction
It is estimated that some 10,000 babies are born with a painkiller addiction every year in the United States. Mothers may have been addicted to painkillers such as codeine, oxycodone or even morphine. When there is an addiction in the pregnant mother which has passed on to the fetus, stopping the drug suddenly can have disastrous consequences. In the first trimester it may even put the fetal life at risk. Methadone (misspelling – methodone), a commonly used opioid as an anti-addictive substitute may have to be continued by the recovering mother during her pregnancy. Without its ‘fix’ the fetus may exhibit withdrawal symptoms and become highly excitable within the womb.
Painkiller addiction after birth
The story does not end once the baby is born. Mothers are sometimes mistaken that once the baby is “separate” from them, they will not have an addiction any longer. This is incorrect. The newborn may still have an addiction and need to be administered very small doses of the substance early in life. Failure to do so can cause the baby to experience withdrawal symptoms. Some of these withdrawal symptoms can be very severe, leading to seizures or even death. With its fragile body, this scenario should ideally be avoided. Doctors are therefore forced to administer opioids in carefully controlled doses. Too high a dose can lead to coma and death, too little can elicit withdrawal symptoms. The legacy of addiction continues until the baby can slowly be weaned off the painkiller.
Effects later in life
Mothers with a painkiller addiction must not be fooled about the dangers with painkiller addiction. While these substances are often prescription drugs, it does not mean that it is any less detrimental when misused than a street drug. Opioid painkillers have a narcotic effect in very much the same way as opium, heroin or cocaine. The “damage” to the fetus and the baby’s health and life is not limited to “crack babies”. Children born to mothers with a painkiller addiction during pregnancy may therefore have many of the same fetal abnormalities and development disorders as pregnant mothers using illicit substances.
Apart from the physical characteristics, these children may have mental abnormalities. They may exhibit some degree of mental retardation and have slower mental abilities in life even in the mildest of cases. Essentially the addition during pregnancy will inhibit a child in many ways throughout life. The child’s lifespan may also be greatly reduced and it is not uncommon for babies to die early in life. The adverse effects are seen commonly with fetal alcohol syndrome with alcohol being the most widely abused substance globally.
Mothers are aware of the dangers of substance abuse during pregnancy and the fact that these are pharmaceutical agents with a therapeutic effect should not detract from the fat that painkiller addiction during pregnancy is detrimental to the fetus and child.