Abusing Oxycodone During And After Pregnancy: Effects and Risks

Oxycodone is an addictive pain medication that can endanger both mother and fetus during and after pregnancy. Oxycodone abuse can result in maternal dependence and addiction, as well as poor fetal growth and preterm labor.

Oxycodone is one of the most addictive prescription drugs available. This opioid analgesic is typically prescribed short-term, in order to manage pain. Research shows that opioids can cross the placenta, which means the medication can affect the fetus.

Opioid analgesics may also be prescribed for pregnant women who are dependent on illegal opioids, like heroin. However, even prescription opioids like oxycodone can result in health conditions during pregnancy.

Health risks for the mother include dependence, addiction, and an increased chance of overdose.
Some of the potential fetal risks include preterm labor, birth defects, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal).

How Does Oxycodone Abuse Affect A Pregnant Woman?

Despite the known dangers, there are rising rates of pregnant women who struggle with oxycodone abuse. One study found that 29 percent of women filled an opioid analgesic prescription during their pregnancy.

Most people know that food, drink, and medications can have a major effect on pregnant women and their developing fetus. Opioids like oxycodone are especially hazardous, because of the risk of addiction.

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Oxycodone is highly addictive and can lead to dependence. When a person is dependent on a drug, their body needs the substance in order to perform everyday functions. If a pregnant woman becomes dependent on oxycodone, the baby will likely be born drug-dependent.

Side Effects Of Abusing Oxycodone During Pregnancy

Opioids like oxycodone come with a lengthy list of potential side effects, including stomach pain, lightheadedness, and hallucinations. These could be especially dangerous for a woman who is pregnant.

When a person abuses oxycodone, they are at risk for a host of potential side effects, including painful withdrawal symptoms. However, for a pregnant woman, these side effects could also affect their developing fetus.

Additional side effects of oxycodone abuse include:

  • stomach pain
  • change in mood
  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • confusion
  • depression
  • itching
  • sweating
  • low energy
  • drowsiness
  • skin flushing
  • dry mouth
  • tolerance (a person may need to take more medication to achieve the same effects)
  • physical dependence (a person may have withdrawal symptoms if medication is stopped)

Preterm Birth

When a woman gives birth before 37 weeks’ gestation time, birth is considered premature. Early labor and preterm birth can be signs that the fetus is in distress. This could be linked to the mother’s oxycodone abuse.

When babies are born prematurely, they may have underdeveloped hearts, lungs, and other organs. Being exposed to oxycodone during gestation is also associated with babies being classified SGA or small for gestational age.

If a baby is born preterm and also suffers from neonatal abstinence syndrome, they could be at risk for additional life-threatening side effects.

Birth Defects

When a woman abuses oxycodone during pregnancy, there’s a chance the baby could be born with certain birth defects.

Researchers have found associations between prenatal oxycodone use and birth defects that affect the heart (congenital heart defects). Some research has also linked opioid abuse to birth defects like clubfoot and orofacial clefts.

This can be caused by oxycodone medications such as OxyContin, or by combination opioid medications like acetaminophen with oxycodone (Percocet).

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (Withdrawal)

One of the main risks of oxycodone abuse during pregnancy is neonatal abstinence syndrome or neonatal withdrawal.

If a person takes oxycodone throughout their pregnancy, the baby could be born with life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal. Every 15 minutes in the U.S., a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal.

Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal) include:

  • abnormal sleep
  • irritability
  • hyperactivity
  • high-pitched crying
  • blotchy skin coloring
  • sneezing or stuffy nose
  • excessive sucking
  • diarrhea
  • rapid breathing
  • sweating
  • severe diaper rash
  • vomiting
  • lack of weight gain
  • trembling, or uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body

Neonatal abstinence syndrome can also cause more long-term complications. These include small head circumference, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and problems with development and behavior.

One study showed that males who were exposed to opioids during pregnancy had more significant cognitive (learning) issues later on, as compared to females.

Health Risks Of Abusing Oxycodone After Pregnancy

If a woman continues to struggle with oxycodone abuse after giving birth, she is in danger of experiencing ongoing health risks.

Mothers addicted to oxycodone may suffer from sleep problems and mood instability. The opportunity for maternal-child bonding could be compromised. Being a new mother has many challenges, and suffering from oxycodone abuse and addiction can add to the difficulties.

Additionally, babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome tend to be fussy and hard to calm. Caring for a baby suffering from withdrawal symptoms can also add to a mother’s stress.

Oxycodone Drugs Withdrawal And Detox

People who take oxycodone for any length of time will likely experience dependence. This means the body and brain require the substance in order to function normally.

If a person stops their use suddenly, they could experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be especially dangerous for women who are pregnant.

Withdrawal symptoms of oxycodone include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • watery eyes
  • insomnia
  • runny nose
  • sweating
  • yawning
  • chills and goosebumps
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • stomach cramping

Oxycodone withdrawal can be very uncomfortable and should take place under medical supervision. Drug detoxification programs exist to support those who are experiencing the painful symptoms of acute withdrawal.

In a medical detox program, patients are provided with support, along with medications to relieve symptoms. Depending on the detox program, pregnant women will likely have access to counseling and frequent fetal monitoring.

Treatment For Oxycodone Abuse And Addiction

In the U.S., 1 in 5 pregnant women fill an opioid prescription during their pregnancy. This means that thousands of families are being affected by oxycodone abuse during and after pregnancy.

Fortunately, specialized treatment exists for pregnant women struggling with oxycodone abuse.

Many inpatient treatment programs across the U.S. offer special tracks for pregnant women or new mothers who struggle with opioid dependence.

In these treatment programs, women can detox in a supportive environment. Maternal treatment programs often provide medical care, parenting classes, and educational support. Many of these programs can be partially covered by private or public insurance, such as Medicaid.

To learn more about the effects and risks of abusing oxycodone during pregnancy, contact one of our treatment specialists today.

Centers for Disease Control - Prescription Opioids

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Opioid Overdose Crisis, Dramatic Increases in Maternal Opioid Use and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus - Opiate and opioid withdrawal, Neonatal abstinence syndrome, Oxycodone

U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Prescription Opioids in Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes: A Review of the Literature, Longitudinal cognitive development of children born to mothers with opioid and polysubstance use

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