Fentanyl Use During Pregnancy Believed Linked to Various Abnormalities in Newborns

Baby crying

The Emergence of a Novel Syndrome

In a study just published in the journal Genetics in Medicine Open[i], researchers from Nemours Children’s Hospital in Delaware are reporting the emergence of a novel syndrome in infants born to mothers who had one or more exposures to fentanyl during their pregnancy.

Infants with multiple physical abnormalities characterize that syndrome.

Features of this novel syndrome include small head size, decreased growth, and characteristic facial features. Some of the young children with this syndrome can also have cleft palate, rocker bottom feet, and deformed genital parts. 

Impact of Opioid Use on Pregnancy

According to the study: “Opioid use in pregnancy and its effect on the fetus have been studied extensively after the increase in prescribed use and associated with opioid use disorder. Preterm delivery, small size for gestational age, reduced head circumference, and sudden infant death, in addition to neonatal abstinence syndrome, can occur in infants with prenatal opioid exposure. Congenital malformations including… congenital heart defects and neural tube defects were seen with an increased frequency in infants with prenatal opioid exposure.”

The researchers fear that prenatal opioid exposure may produce long-term physical and developmental issues like those seen in children with fetal alcohol syndrome.

While it has long been known that fentanyl can cause congenital disabilities, this is the first study appearing to confirm those earlier findings.

Implications and Recommendations

So, what does it all mean?

At a minimum, OB/GYNs need to be alert to any signs of opioid use in young women of childbearing age and encourage treatment for opioid use disorder in those cases where such care would be appropriate.

Support for Addiction Recovery

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to opioids, other drugs, or alcohol and need help in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana, the recovery teams at Aware Recovery Care are here to help. And we come to you, regardless of where you live. Our unique in-home treatment model of care gives clients a significantly better chance of recovery than traditional inpatient rehab care. Please get in touch with one of our Recovery Specialists to learn more.

[i] https://www.gimopen.org/article/S2949-7744(23)00843-9/fulltext