The popular prescription painkiller oxycodone has recently been linked to a number of severe birth defects in babies born to mothers who took the drug while pregnant. Congenital abnormalities associated with oxycodone include heart defects, gastroschisis (herniation of the abdominal wall), glaucoma, hydrocephaly and spina bifida.
What is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a widely-prescribed opioid pain reliever that is structurally similar to morphine, codeine, and Vicodin (hydrocodone). Contrary to popular belief, oxycodone does not eliminate the sensation of pain, but instead decreases discomfort by increasing tolerance to pain. In addition to having the ability to increase tolerance to pain, oxycodone causes sedation and respiratory depression. Oxycodone was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1976, and is currently available under the following brand names:
Oxycodone Birth Defects
A recent study conducted by researchers at the CDC examined the use of opioid painkillers like oxycodone during the first trimester of pregnancy (a time when many women may still be unaware they are pregnant), and found a doubling or more of the risk of having a baby born with birth defects. In particular, there was an increased risk for:
- Heart Defects
- Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS)
- Ventricular Septal Defects (VSDs)
- Atrial Septal Defects (ASDs)
- Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF)
- Right Ventricular Outflow Tract Obstructions (RVOTOs)
- Pulmonary Valve Stenosis
- Gastroschisis (herniation of the abdominal wall)
- Spina Bifida
The new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is the largest ever conducted on the use of opioid medication during pregnancy. The results of the research are particularly alarming because, up until now, opiate painkillers like oxycodone have been thought to be relatively safe for use by pregnant women.
Oxycodone & Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS)
HLHS is a rare congenital abnormality involving a combination of several defects of the heart and great blood vessels. In babies born with the condition, most of the structures on the left side of the heart fail to develop and are abnormally small. The amount of underdevelopment varies from case to case, but the structures affected typically include the mitral valve, left ventricle, aortic valve, and aorta. The new research found that oxycodone use during pregnancy doubles the risk of having a baby born with HLHS. Signs and symptoms of oxycodone-induced hypoplastic left heart syndrome may include:
- bluish (cyanosis) or poor skin color
- cold hands and feet (extremities)
- poor pulse
- poor suckling and feeding
- pounding heart
- rapid breathing
- shortness of breath
Oxycodone & Spina Bifida
Spina bifida is a rare neural tube birth defect that occurs when the backbone and spinal cord fail to close before birth. The term spina bifida comes from Latin, and literally means ‘split’ or ‘open’ spine. Spina bifida typically begins to manifest itself in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the two sides of the embryo’s spine fail to join together. Symptoms of oxycodone-induced spina bifida may include:
- an abnormal tuft of hair
- a collection of fat
- a small dimple or birthmark
- skin discoloration
Oxycodone & Pregnancy
The FDA currently classifies oxycodone in Pregnancy Category C, which means there have been no adequate and well-controlled studies conducted on the drug to determine whether it may have an impact on an unborn child. The administration has advised that oxycodone should only be used during pregnancy if the potential benefit justifies the risk to the fetus.