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Would it be medical malpractice to give opioids during pregnancy?

It would probably be a challenge to find someone here in New Mexico who has not heard about the opioid crisis. In 2016 alone, approximately 63,600 people overdosed on drugs, and researchers estimate that around 66 percent of them were due to opioids. 

Knowing that these medications are dangerous and could easily result in dependence and abuse, why would anyone give these drugs to a pregnant woman? You may ask yourself this question as you attempt to recover from an addiction to opioids and deal with the health ramifications to your child.

What risks do you face?

Being pregnant doesn't preclude you from suffering an injury. In fact, in some women, it increases the likelihood since many pregnant women get clumsy during pregnancy. Many doctors still believe that it's safe to use opioids to treat acute injuries if they are only taken for a short period of time, but depending on the person, adverse effects could occur more quickly than a doctor realizes. In addition, they pose risks to you and your fetus as well in many ways, including the following:

  • Inflammation of the fetal membranes
  • Placental abruption
  • Placental insufficiency
  • Heavy bleeding postpartum
  • Premature rupture of membranes
  • Miscarriage or fetal death
  • Preterm labor
  • Premature birth
  • Preeclampsia
  • Fetal growth restriction

Your baby could also go through neonatal abstinence syndrome if you suffer from an opioid addiction, which means that your baby would have to go through withdrawal. If one or more of these situations occurred, it does not absolutely mean it was due to opioids. However, the odds are good that the narcotics were the cause or contributed to the difficulties you and your baby experienced.

Should your doctor prescribe an opioid during your pregnancy?

A responsible doctor would attempt to limit the use of these medications if you suffer an injury that causes you acute pain. If you suffer chronic pain, a responsible doctor would more than likely attempt to try other measures first. Some say that the risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome and addiction should not be taken into consideration for acute pain, but it should be for chronic pain. In either case, it is possible for you to develop an addiction even in a short amount of time.

There may be a fine line between medical malpractice and meeting the standard of care when it comes to prescribing these medications during pregnancy. You always have the choice not to take a medication, but if your doctor persuades you and something goes wrong, and you and your child suffer harm because of it, you may be able to pursue compensation for any issues you or your baby suffered or continue to suffer.

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McGraw & Strickland, LLC
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Las Cruces, NM 88005

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