A new report in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association has found that excessive opioid prescriptions after childbirth may lead to higher rates of addiction.
According to the report, a significant correlation exists between the number of pills prescribed to postpartum mothers and the continued use or abuse of opioids.
The Journal said there are no current national guidelines for physicians prescribing opioids after childbirth. This new research indicates that postpartum women who prescribed opioids receive significantly more pills than were used. Patients who had vaginal deliveries received 10 more pills than they used, the report found, while those who had cesarean section deliveries received on average 7.5 more pills than used.
“We must prioritize the health of the mother and the community that cares for that child by rethinking the number of opioids given to patients,” said Danielle Prentice, DO, an OB-GYN and lead author on the study. “These findings do not minimize the pain women feel postpartum or dispute that physicians are best suited to prescribe appropriate pain medication, but rather act as a call to action to rethink our standard prescribing practices, which are often out of line with a new mom’s needs.”
Across the study, the mean number of unused opioids was 9.1 pills, the study said, but only 5 percent of the patients surveyed said they disposed of the pills properly.
Researchers said that for many women, their first exposure to opioids is after childbirth. Their risk of continuing use of opioids is associated with a single prescription, the report found.
“The problem is two-fold,” Prentice said. “Women receive limited guidance about the risks of opioid misuse during a highly stressful period in their lives. Meanwhile, leftover pills—of which there are many—are available and end up circulating throughout their community.”
Researchers recommend changing opioid prescription practices, as well as increasing the number of opioid disposal sites at pediatric clinics – places where new mothers will frequently visit for their newborn’s check-ups.