Is there a Potential Link Between the Opioid Crisis in Communities and Gastroschisis?

Baby sleeping with mom's hand rubbing it's cheek

Gastroschisis is a birth defect of the abdominal (belly) wall. Several studies show increased rates of babies born with gastroschisis. Most of these babies are born to young mothers. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of babies born with gastroschisis was higher in U.S. counties with high opioid (pain medicine) prescription rates, compared to those with low opioid prescription rates. These findings should not be interpreted to mean that maternal opioid exposure during pregnancy causes babies to be born with gastroschisis, but they may signal a potential link to be examined in future studies. More research is needed to understand the full effects of opioids on mothers and babies and what factors may contribute to this observed association.

Read the full scientific article.

U.S. Opioid Prescribing Rate Map
U.S. Opioid Prescribing Rate Map

For detailed information on opioid prescription rates, use CDC’s interactive maps.

Main Findings

  • Researchers estimated that, from 2006-2015, about 1 in every 2,300 babies was born with gastroschisis in twenty U.S. states.
  • This study looked at reported cases of gastroschisis by county in these states and found that counties where doctors frequently prescribe opioids had 1.6 times more babies born with gastroschisis compared to counties with low opioid prescription rates.
  • Researchers aren’t currently able to explain why gastroschisis rates are more common in these counties. More research is needed to understand what factors may contribute to this observed association.
  • Tracking rates of birth defects and opioid prescriptions are key to understanding how mothers and babies may be impacted by the opioid crisis.

About This Study

  • Researchers used information from birth defects tracking programs in 20 states. Participating states were Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.
  • In this study, researchers looked at the number of babies affected by gastroschisis in these 20 states between 2006 and 2015, and compared it with opioid prescription rates in the counties where babies were born. More research is needed to understand whether there is a potential link between these observations.
  • This study has some limitations that should be considered:
    • This report uses an ecological study design, which means that these findings do not show cause and effect. However, they may signal a potential link to be looked at in future studies.
    • Researchers were not able to look at the impact of other factors at the county or individual level that may affect the risk for gastroschisis.

About Birth Defects

Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part(s) of the body, such as the heart, brain, or foot. Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions that affect 1 in 33 babies born in the United States.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) works to save babies by preventing birth defects. NCBDDD identifies causes of birth defects, finds opportunities to prevent them, and improves the health of those living with birth defects. Learn how NCBDDD makes a difference.

More Information

Key Findings Reference

Short TD, Stallings EB, Isenburg J, O’Leary LA, Yazdy MM, Bohm M, et al. Gastroschisis Trends and Ecological Link to Opioid Prescription Rates in the United States, 2006-2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019; 68: 31–36.