Abusing Prescription Drugs During Pregnancy

When you become pregnant, changes must be made in your lifestyle for the health of your baby. If dependence or abuse of prescription drugs has become part of your life, it is important that you seek help. Abusing prescription drugs can not only be harmful to you, but also to your baby.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Opioids: These drugs are prescribed to treat pain and are sometimes used as a pre-anesthetic sedative. Common names include morphine, codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), meperidine (Demerol) and oxycodone (OxyContin).

CNS Depressants: These drugs are prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. CNS depressants are divided into two categories, barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Common prescription names include mephobarbital (Mebaral), pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and chlordiazepoxide HCI (Librium)

Stimulants: These drugs are prescribed to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Common prescription names include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (Ritalin).

How would I know if these drugs are harmful for my baby?

Most prescription drugs fall into a risk factor category of A, B, C, D or X. These categories help explain how each drug can effect pregnancy and the baby:

  • Category A: Studies have shown no increased risk of fetal abnormalities
  • Category B: Studies have not been able to prove an increased risk of fetal abnormalities
  • Category C: Studies in animals have shown an adverse effect but no studies have been done on pregnant women or no animal studies have been done and there are no adequate studies in pregnant women.
  • Category D: Studies have shown that there is a risk to the fetus
  • Category X: Studies clearly show a risk of abnormalities to the fetus

Regardless of the risk factor, if you are abusing any prescription drug(s) it can be harmful to both you and your baby.

Popular Drugs That Can Be Harmful to Your Baby

Morphine and Demerol are used to relieve severe to moderate pain. Both are a risk factor B but can be a risk factor D if abused and used for a prolonged period or at high doses. If overdose occurs it can lead to respiratory depression, apnea, and other complications in the mother that can harm the baby. If the mother is not healthy, the baby can be affected.

Codeine is used for less severe pain. Codeine is a risk factor C and can also be a risk factor D if abused and used for a prolonged period or at high doses.

Xanax and Valium are used to treat anxiety and panic disorder. Both are a risk factor D and should be completely avoided during pregnancy.

Ritalin is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactive disorder. Ritalin is a risk factor C and is inconclusive on the effects to a developing fetus; therefore it is best to avoid.

OxyContin is used for the relief of pain. It is a risk factor B but is a risk factor D if abused. It should not be used during pregnancy unless it is deemed necessary by your doctor.

It is important that you inform your doctor on all and any drugs that you are taking.

How would I know if I am abusing prescription drugs?

  • You consume larger doses than prescribed
  • You use it more frequently than prescribed
  • You take the medications for reasons other than what is was prescribed for

What should I do if I am pregnant and abusing prescription drugs?
The hardest part is admitting that there is a problem. When you become pregnant your lifestyle habits will have to change for the protection of you and your baby during this special time. When you attend your first prenatal visit, your doctor will ask you a series of questions about your lifestyle like; "do you smoke?" "do you drink?" and "are you taking any prescription drugs?" You will have to be honest with your doctor. If you find it is difficult for you to stop taking your medications, you need to seek help. Call the National Alcohol & Drug Dependence Hopeline at 1-800-NCA-CALL (622-2255) for help.

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association