Cause and effect?

Something is changing:Health officials in the U.S. are looking into a possible link between prescription opioids and a birth defect called gastroschisis — a condition when a baby is born with its intestines hanging outside the stomach, due to a hole in the abdominal wall. Most are repaired through surgery. Roughly 1,800 such cases are seen in the U.S. each year, but the number has been rising and officials don’t know why. Researchers note that the condition seems to occur more often when the mother is a teenager or was smoking or drinking alcohol early in pregnancy. In a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S., that foccused on 20 states, and which was released on Tuesday, the scientists noted that cases were 60% more common in places that had the highest overall opioid prescription rates. The study did not see if each mother had been taking opioids and it does not say opioids caused the birth defects. But it echoes earlier research that found a higher risk of birth defects when mothers took opioid painkillers such as oxycodone just before or early in their pregnancy. The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, and two other agency officials have written a commentary in the journal Pediatrics urging more study of the possible connection between opioids and birth defects. They say: “The report sounds an early alarm for the need to increase our public health surveillance on the full range of fetal, infant, and childhood outcomes potentially related to these exposures.” Picture shows a standard prescription container with oxycodone tablets.— MIKE STOBBE/APMark Lennihan/APMark Lennihan

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