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Physicians Worry No Medical Standards For Treating Pregnant Painkiller Addicts

Prescription painkiller abuse is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States today causing doctors to enter uncharted territory with pregnant addicts. As we’ve seen the death rates associated with painkiller abuse triple over the past ten years, there has been a ripple effect of ethical dilemmas throughout the medical community without any easy answers. One such issue, is the best way to treat women who become pregnant and have a pre-existing prescription painkiller addiction.

Many doctors outright refuse to treat painkiller addicts who are carrying a child because of the potential ethical and legal fallout of this touchy situation. On the one hand, a physician may help their patient withdraw from their addiction, but the outcome of correcting the mother’s health could be the loss of the fetus. Another option would be to prescribe the mother methadone, so the baby will not have to try to survive withdrawal in utero, but instead will have to go through this agony once they are born and hopefully strong enough to handle it.

Research is Difficult To Perform on Unborn Babies

Doctors today are in a similar situation from 25 years ago when they had to figure out on the job how to deal with cocaine and crack addicted babies. The medical research is few and far between when it comes to pregnancy and drugs because of the risk to both the mother and the fetus. For any type of research, scientists must stick to very stringent ethical guidelines, but in this situation the lines become blurred. Physicians at the National Institute for Drug Abuse freely admit the knowledge on painkiller addiction and pregnancy is sorely lacking and that no doctor exactly knows what the best course of action is for the addict or the baby.

Buprenorphine May Be Part of the Solution for Pregnant Addicts

The treatment of choice for years has been to give the pregnant mother methadone, which keeps withdrawal symptoms at bay, but in itself, can cause addiction and extreme tiredness. Instead there is a growing trend of prescribing buprenorphine to keep cravings low and runs a smaller risk of any obvious addiction signs in the newborn baby.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a research article that found babies who had been exposed to buprenorphine need less medical intervention after birth. However, it is important to note that buprenorphine is not a panacea. Not all babies with opiate exposure need medical intervention (although the majority do) and buprenorphine does not work for all women. Nonetheless, it appears to be one potential solution for a medical community struggling for safe and effective ways to provide many unborn babies the best possible entrance into the world despite less than ideal circumstances.

What do you think about the doctors dilemma in treating pregnant addicts? Your thoughts, opinions and ideas are all welcome below.

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