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Professionals urge media to end inaccurate reporting on prescription opiate use by pregnant women

March 15, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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More than 40 leading United States and international medical and psychological researchers and experts have released a letter to media outlets and policy makers urging evidence-based coverage on the issue of prescription opiate use by pregnant women.

An increasing number of news articles have focused on the use and misuse of prescription opiates by pregnant women. If a pregnant woman uses opiates or receives maintenance treatment during pregnancy her newborn may experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS, a possible side effect of prenatal exposure to opiates and medications used in the treatment of opiates, can be readily treated and has never been shown to lead to any long-term adverse effects.

Authors of the letter were motivated by media coverage that have largely ignored research that shows value of methadone and buprenorphine treatment; have ignored well-establish, cost effective protocols that treat and resolve NAS if it occurs; focus blame on pregnant women and portray them as perpetrators of harm to their offspring; and, use medically inaccurate terms that brand newborns as “addicted” or as victims.

Reporting about this issue that is not based on science encourages policies that undermine maternal, fetal, and child health, according to the authors. The doctors and researchers who collaborated in the release of this consensus statement urge that the media stop inaccurate and alarmist reporting on the subject. They joined together to challenge “reporting that, very literally, threatens the lives, health, and safety of children.”

This letter follows a recent U.N. Human Rights Council Report on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment harshly criticizing policies that deny drug-users long-term maintenance treatment with methadone or buprenorphine. The report notes that “A particular form of ill-treatment and possibly torture of drug users is the denial of opiate substitution treatment.”

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