Fentanyl Abuse During Pregnancy

Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that can have harmful effects on both the mother and baby during pregnancy. Seeking treatment for fentanyl abuse during pregnancy may be needed to prevent or treat serious health dangers.

Prescription opioids like fentanyl may be commonly prescribed to relieve severe pain. This can include women who are or are trying to become pregnant. Taking prescription painkillers under the guidance of a doctor may not pose a significant risk to you or your baby. However, misusing fentanyl in frequent and large doses can be dangerous.

Fentanyl is highly addictive and has powerful effects that can cross into the placenta. This can risk dangers to a developing fetus, including neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) upon delivery. Pregnancy can be both a happy and difficult time for expectant mothers, and it is natural to want easy and effective ways to manage pain. Talking to a doctor about these concerns can help you develop a treatment plan for a safe pregnancy.

Abusing fentanyl for its effects or taking it in large doses can be dangerous while pregnant. Talking to a specialist is recommended to help you determine a safe way to stop using fentanyl. This may require inpatient treatment to treat opioid abuse and decrease risk for fetal harm.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl belongs to a class of narcotic drugs known as opioids. This includes prescription drugs like morphine, tramadol, and oxycodone. Unlike some opioids like morphine, fentanyl is synthetic. This means it is manufactured in labs to resemble natural opiates derived from opium poppy plants.

Medical uses for prescription fentanyl include treating severe and sometimes chronic pain. It may also be illegally manufactured sold on the street for recreational use.

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Another difference between fentanyl and some other opioids is its potency. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, which is derived directly from opium plants. It has powerful effects on the brain, including areas that control pain and emotion. When used, fentanyl can cause an intense rush of euphoria or happiness. Some other side effects can also occur.

Side effects of fentanyl can include:

  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • confusion
  • slowed or labored breathing
  • heart problems
  • loss of consciousness
  • dependence

Fentanyl And Pregnancy

Fentanyl can have dangerous effects on both fetal and maternal health during pregnancy. Women who take fentanyl and become pregnant may need to seek alternative treatments for severe or chronic pain.

Women who are addicted to fentanyl and become pregnant should seek immediate medical help to develop a treatment plan. Continuing to abuse opioids during pregnancy can increase several health risks and may lead to miscarriage.

Effects Of Fentanyl On Babies

Untreated opioid use disorder (OUD) in women who are pregnant can pose significant harm to fetal development and long-term health of a baby.

Addiction to fentanyl is a serious concern among people who use the drug recreationally or for prescription use. When someone is unable to reduce their doses, or are experiencing health problems as a result of their drug use, this may indicate they have a problem.

The dangers of fentanyl abuse can pose harm to both maternal and fetal health during pregnancy.

Potential effects of fentanyl abuse on babies may include:

  • neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)
  • stunted growth
  • birth defects
  • congenital heart defects
  • preterm labor
  • fetal convulsions
  • miscarriage or stillbirth

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a condition that occurs in babies whose mothers are dependent on opioids or other drugs. This can cause babies to be born dependent on the substance abused by the mother during pregnancy.

Babies with NAS may display several symptoms after birth depending on: the type of drug used, the last time the mother used it, and whether the baby was born full-term. Babies that are born addicted to fentanyl will experience withdrawal symptoms.

These can include:

  • tremors
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • difficulty feeding
  • vomiting
  • irritability
  • seizures

Infants with NAS may require longer hospitalizations after birth to monitor and treat withdrawal symptoms. Breastfeeding babies with NAS may shorten the length of stay and improve bonding. The safety of breastfeeding a baby with NAS may depend on certain maternal factors, including if and for how long the mother has been abstinent from fentanyl.

Long-Term Health Risks Of Fentanyl Abuse During Pregnancy

Taking excessive or frequent doses of fentanyl while pregnant can also pose some long-term risks to infant health:

  • Stunted Growth: One of the health risks of fentanyl abuse during pregnancy, for instance, is stunted growth. This means that babies may not grow to a healthy length or birth-weight during development. This can increase the risk of mortality and health problems in childhood and adulthood. Factors such as poor nutrition in the mother during pregnancy and neglected prenatal care can contribute to these problems.
  • NAS-related Developmental Problems: Babies with NAS upon delivery may be more likely to experience behavioral and developmental problems in childhood. They can also be at greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and substance abuse later in life.

New mothers with a history of fentanyl abuse may also be in ill states of mental and physical health. Without treatment, new mothers may be unable to stay sober on their own or struggle to provide a nurturing environment for their baby.

Fentanyl Abuse And Addiction

Addiction is a complex disease that can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, or economic background. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl can be highly addictive even when prescribed for approved uses. Certain factors, such as a personal history of substance abuse, may increase the risk of fentanyl abuse and addiction.

When used, fentanyl can produce powerful effects that can be addictive. People who take the drug can also develop tolerance to fentanyl over time. This can lead to taking higher doses of the drug to feel the desired effects. Continuing to increase your dosage without doctor approval can be dangerous, risking severe dependence and overdose.

Abusing fentanyl can put people in a difficult position when situations like pregnancy occur. While expectant mothers may not want to risk harm to their baby, they may also feel scared or unsure about how they may safely treat their drug abuse.

There are several treatment options and recommendations available for expectant mothers with substance abuse problems. The comfort and safety of both you and your baby are priorities throughout the treatment process, which may be tailored to meet your needs.

Treatment For Fentanyl Addiction While Pregnant

Women who abuse fentanyl and become pregnant should not attempt to stop using fentanyl on their own. This can be dangerous to both you and your baby.

Withdrawing from chronic fentanyl abuse is a process best done under the supervision of medical specialists. This involves detoxing from the drug, which may lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the most effective way to manage withdrawal symptoms during detox and treat opioid use disorder. MAT is a combination of behavioral counseling and medications approved to reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. The most common medicines used to treat opioid abuse during pregnancy are methadone and buprenorphine.

The benefits of receiving MAT while pregnant can include:

  • reducing the withdrawal period for babies born with NAS
  • reducing the risk of infectious diseases (e.g. HIV, HCV, HBV) being transmitted to the baby
  • improved health outcomes for both the mother and baby

Expectant mothers who seek treatment for their fentanyl abuse may also gain access to resources that can improve prenatal care and help them fully overcome their drug addiction.

Getting Help For Your Fentanyl Abuse Today

If you are an expectant mother struggling with fentanyl abuse, we want to help. Contact one of our specialists today to learn more about treatment options for fentanyl abuse during pregnancy.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Fentanyl, Treating Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) During Pregnancy

National Institutes of Health: MedlinePlus - Pregnancy and Opioids

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