Chronic back pain after a car accident or persistent severe knee pain following a surgery. These are typical conditions that can lead women into doctors’ offices seeking relief. Chronic pain is the number one reason people go to the doctor. Some women receive a prescription for opioid pain relievers such as Hydrocodone or Oxycodone. While these medicines can be effective for many chronic pain sufferers, if they are taken incorrectly, the consequences can be severe–including addiction and overdose.

Unfortunately, prescriptions for these types of pain medications have skyrocketed. According to the CDC, prescription painkillers prescribed and sold in the U.S. have nearly quadrupled since 1999. Yet there has been no corresponding decline in the amount of pain that Americans report. Women are particularly vulnerable as they are more likely than men to experience chronic pain and to be prescribed and become dependent on painkillers. Clearly, more needs to be done to reduce chronic pain as well as reduce the problems of overprescribing pain medications.

Improving strategies for prescribing opioids to women of childbearing age are particularly critical to newborns and their families. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) occurs when babies are exposed to addictive opiate drugs in the womb, and the effects are terrible. Babies can experience breathing problems, vomiting and tremors in their early days of life. Some babies need to stay in the hospital for weeks and have symptoms of withdrawal for up to six months, causing not only heartache for families but also significant healthcare costs.

An infant is born with NAS in the U.S about every 25 minutes. The situation in Ohio is even more troubling. The rate of babies experiencing NAS has increased more than 800 percent between 2004 and 2013. Treating infants born with NAS costs the state nearly $100 million in 2013.

NAS is of such concern that Governor John R. Kasich designated July 1 through July 7, as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Awareness Week.

Leaders across the state are working hard to prevent NAS. The Ohio Perinatal Quality Collaborative (OPQC), and its state partners are encouraging health care providers prescribing painkillers to be part of the solution by urging them to “pause before they prescribe.

Some steps prescribers can take:

  • Look for non-narcotic alternatives for treating chronic pain first.
  • Talk with patients about addiction risks and the importance of long-acting reversible birth control.
  • Consult the state’s prescription drug reporting system to better screen patients.

These steps can help avoid the pain and anguish NAS causes newborns and their families.

Learn more about how OPQC is working to reduce preterm births and improve birth outcomes across Ohio.