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Prenatal opioid analgesics and the risk of adverse birth outcomes


Background — It is unclear whether confounding accounts for the increased risk of preterm birth and small for gestational age (SGA) birth in opioid analgesic exposed pregnancies.

Methods — Using universal coverage health data for Ontario, we assembled a cohort of mother-infant pairs without opioid use disorder (627,172 pregnancies, 509,522 women). We estimated risk ratios between opioid analgesics and preterm birth, SGA birth, and stillbirth; neonatal abstinence syndrome was a secondary outcome. We used high dimensional propensity scores and sensitivity analyses for confounding adjustment.

Results — 4% of pairs were exposed, mainly to codeine (2%), morphine (1%), and oxycodone (1%). Compared with unexposed, the adjusted risk of preterm birth was higher with any (1.3, 95% CI 1.2, 1.3), first- (RR 1.2, 95% CI:1.2, 1.3), and second-trimester (RR 1.3, 95% CI:1.2, 1.4) opioid analgesic exposure. Preterm birth risk was higher for first- and second-trimester codeine, morphine, and oxycodone exposure, and for third-trimester morphine. There was a small increase in SGA with first-trimester exposure to any opioid analgesic or to codeine. Exposed pregnancies had an elevated stillbirth risk with any (RR 1.6, 95% CI: 1.4, 1.8), first- and second-trimester exposure. Few infants had neonatal abstinence syndrome (N=143); the risk was higher in exposed (RR 3.6, 95% CI: 2.1, 6.0). In sensitivity analyses of unmeasured confounding, an elevated risk in exposed pregnancies persisted for preterm birth but not SGA.

Conclusions — Opioid analgesic exposed pregnancies had a small increased risk of preterm birth and possibly stillbirth after accounting for confounding by indication and sociodemographic factors.



Brogly SB, Velez MP, Werler MM, Li W, Camden A, Guttmann A. Epidemiology. 2021; 32(3):448-56. Epub 2021 Feb 19.

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