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Key Findings: Opioids Prescribed Just Before Pregnancy Associated With Autism

Female doctor writing on clipboard in clinic with female patient

A study from the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that mothers who were prescribed opioids just before becoming pregnant were more likely to have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or a child with other developmental disabilities (DDs) and some autism symptoms. This study is among the first to look at associations between prescription of opioids in pregnancy and ASD and other DDs. More research is needed to better understand developmental outcomes among children whose mothers used opioids before (meaning 3 months before) and during pregnancy.

Read the scientific summary of the article.

Main Findings

  • Mothers who were prescribed opioids just before becoming pregnant (1.2% of mothers with a child in the ASD group) were about 2.5 times more likely to have a child with ASD or a child with other DDs and some autism symptoms.
  • In this sample, about 8% of mothers reported receiving an opioid prescription just before or during pregnancy. The majority (76%) of these mothers received only one prescription. The most common reasons for opioid prescriptions were migraine headaches, injury, and back pain. Illicit opioid use was not included in this analysis.

This study is among the first to assess associations between prescription of opioids in pregnancy and ASD and other DDs. Researchers were limited by small sample sizes and were not able to assess whether the associations found were related to the opioid medication itself, to the reason the mother took the medication, or to some other unknown factor associated with the opioid use. More research is needed to better understand developmental outcomes among children whose mothers used opioids during pregnancy.

About This Study

This study used data from the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), the largest study in the United States to help identify factors that may put children at risk for ASD. Researchers analyzed information collected from more than 4,000 children enrolled in SEED; illicit opioid use was not included in this analysis.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities is working to improve our understanding of ASD through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network and SEED. CDC conducts and funds these activities to

  • Learn more about the number of people who have ASD; and
  • Identify factors that may put children at risk for ASD and other DDs.

This information can help communities direct outreach efforts to those who need it most.

For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism.

More Information

References

Rubenstein E, Young JC, Croen LA, DiGuiseppi C, Dowling NF, Lee LC, Schieve L, Wiggins LD, Daniels J. Maternal opioid prescription from preconception through pregnancy and the odds of autism spectrum disorder and autism features in children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2018 [epub ahead of print].

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