Chronic prescription opioid use in pregnancy in the United States

Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2021 Apr;30(4):504-513. doi: 10.1002/pds.5194. Epub 2021 Jan 17.


Purpose: To evaluate chronic opioid utilization patterns during pregnancy using nationwide data from publicly and commercially insured women.

Methods: Pregnancy cohorts were identified using data from the Medicaid Analytic eXtract 2008-2014 and the IBM Health MarketScan Research Database 2008-2015. Opioid dispensing was evaluated using claims from filled prescriptions. Two different definitions of chronic opioid use were employed: ≥90 days' supply and ≥180 days' supply of prescription opioids during pregnancy. Patient characteristics were assessed and variations in the prevalence of chronic opioid therapy were described by geographic region and over time.

Results: 1.50% of 975 169 Medicaid-insured and 0.32% of 1 037 599 commercially insured beneficiaries filled opioid prescriptions for ≥90 days' supply; 0.78% (Medicaid) and 0.17% (commercially insured) filled prescriptions for ≥180 days' supply. Prevalence approximately doubled in Medicaid beneficiaries during the study period, while it remained relatively stable for commercial insurance beneficiaries. The most commonly prescribed opioid for chronic therapy was hydrocodone, followed by oxycodone and tramadol. Indications commonly associated with chronic use were back/neck pain, abdominal/pelvic pain, musculoskeletal pain and migraine/headache. Substantial regional variation was observed, with several states reporting a frequency of ≥90 days' supply in excess of 3% in Medicaid-insured patients.

Conclusions: Despite growing awareness of the risks associated with chronic opioid use and emphasis on improving opioid prescription patterns, prevalence of chronic use in pregnancy among publicly insured women nearly doubled from 2008-2014 and was 5-fold more common when compared to commercially insured women. Findings call for the development of guidelines on chronic pain management during pregnancy.

Keywords: chronic use; opioids; patterns; pregnancy; trends.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid* / adverse effects
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medicaid
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Pregnancy
  • Prescriptions
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid