Pharmacy study examines dangers of opioid use during pregnancy

Funded study to show impacts on mother, child of prescription opioid use

Media Contact: Patrick Luce, 401-874-4046 |

KINGSTON, R.I. — Feb. 26, 2021 — Prescription opioid use among pregnant women has increased in recent years, putting both mother and unborn baby at risk. It is necessary to comprehensively evaluate the safety of opioids on both mother and infant, the subject of a funded study in the URI College of Pharmacy.

Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice Xuerong Wen aims to fill gaps in research on the effects of maternal opioid use on pregnancy complications and long-term developmental outcomes of children, and optimize medication assisted treatment for pregnant women with opioid use disorder. Her study has been funded by an initial grant of $435,000 from the National Institutes of Health, and a supplemental grant of $256,000 awarded in October.

Wen’s research is based on studies of linked mother-infant datasets, including nationwide health administrative data, RI Medicaid claims, RI vital statistics, and RI education records, to examine various short- and long-term outcomes. Initial results have shown that prescription opioid use is associated with increased risks of adverse pregnancy and obstetric complications, congenital malformations (in musculoskeletal system), or neurodevelopmental disorders (mental disorders and developmental delays in the unborn child).

Wen is now taking the initial study further, implementing advanced Bayesian Statistical Modeling to assess long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes in children. The study aims to show that maternal exposure to prescription opioids during pregnancy increases obstetric complications, increases birth defects in infants, and reduces long-term neurodevelopment and educational status in children. The study also aims to identify medication treatments that have less adverse outcomes for both mother and child.