Prescription Opioid Pain Reliever Use During Pregnancy

34 U.S. Jurisdictions, 2019


Prescription opioid pain relievers can be used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. Long- term use of prescription opioids is associated with increased risk for misuse. Use during pregnancy can lead to negative health effects for the infant such as neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, preterm birth, poor fetal growth, and stillbirth.

It is important for clinicians and patients to carefully weigh the risks and benefits when deciding to begin or continue using prescription opioids during pregnancy.

The Data

Data from CDC’s Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) and two additional maternal and infant health surveys examined self-reported prescription
opioid use during pregnancy.
seven per cent

of women reported using prescription opioids during pregnancy.

Among these women -
32 percent reported not being counseled by a healthcare provider about the potential effects of prescription opioid use on a baby.
One in five reported misuse of prescription opioids, defined as getting them from a non- healthcare source or using for a reason other than to relieve pain.
27 percent wanted to cut down or stop using.

The Way Forward

Ensuring appropriate use of prescription opioids among pregnant women is key. Universal screening for opioid use and misuse may improve the health of both mothers and babies.

Healthcare providers can

  • Prescribe opioids to pregnant women consistent with clinical practice guidelines.
  • Discuss with patients the risks and benefits of opioid use during pregnancy.
  • Explore nonopioid pain management options for pregnant women.
  • Verbally screen all pregnant women for substance use, misuse, and substance use disorder as part of comprehensive obstetric care.
  • Provide treatment or referral to treatment for opioid use disorder, when appropriate.

States and communities can

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  • Support implementation of clinical guidance for substance use screening and treatment through programs, policies and provider training.
  • Improve the use of state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.
  • Implement quality improvement initiatives to address opioid use disorder.
  • Raise awareness about the effects of prescription opioid use and strategies to prevent misuse.

Pregnant women can

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  • Talk to their doctor about ways to manage pain that do not involve prescription opioids.
  • Ask questions about the risks and benefits of using a prescription opioid during pregnancy for themselves and their baby.
  • Follow up regularly with their doctor about their pain management plan.
  • Use prescription opioids only as prescribed and do not share with friends or family.

For more information

For more information on CDC’s activities to better understand opioid use during pregnancy, please visit: