HealthDay News — Too many women of childbearing age take prescription opioids, putting many unborn babies at risk, U.S. health officials said in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

CDC researchers analyzed 2008 to 2012 data from Medicaid, and another database of claims from women with private health insurance and found 39% of females aged 15 to 44 years who were enrolled in Medicaid filled a prescription for an opioid each year during that time period. Among privately insured women, that rate was 28%.

Data from private insurance indicated that prescriptions for opioids were highest among reproductive-aged women in the South and lowest in the Northeast. From Medicaid, the researchers found that white women of reproductive age had nearly 1.5 times as many prescriptions for opioids as black or Hispanic women.

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The higher rates of opioid use among Medicaid patients than those of privately insured women might be because of differences in the medications covered under their health insurance plan, differences in health care services, or differences in the prevalence of underlying medical problems, the researchers said.

CDC epidemiologist Jennifer Lind, PharmD, told HealthDay that most of the women in the study were prescribed opioids to treat moderate to severe pain, such as after surgery.

“We encourage doctors to make sure that they are discussing pregnancy potential with their patients and understand that they may be treating two patients whenever they are prescribing reproductive-aged women,” Lind said. “We recommend that they use the lowest effective dose for the shortest amount of time possible, and birth control to reduce the risk of becoming pregnant while taking them.”


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015 Jan 23 64(02);37-41.