Darvon, Darvocet also increase risk for birth defects

The newly banned drugs Darvon and Darvocet are among a type of drug that puts the unborn babies of women who use the drugs just before or during pregnancy at risk for birth defects, in particular heart defects, according to an ongoing, population-based study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The study focused on use of opioids, or potent prescription painkillers that include propoxyphene (Darvon and Darcocet), oxycodone, morphine, tramadol, methadone, and fentanyl. Researchers looked at opioid exposure in mothers from three months before conception through the end of pregnancy. They found that women who received opioid treatment in early pregnancy had a two- to three-fold increased risk of giving birth to babies with conoventricular septal defects, atrioventricular septal defects, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, spina bifida, or gastroschisis. Codeine and hydrocodone accounted for the most statistically significant findings.

There are about four million live births in the United States each year, and birth defects occur in about three percent of them. Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect and affect approximately one percent of all live births.

Drugs containing propoxyphene were recently pulled from the market by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because studies showed that the drug put users at risk for life threatening heart rhythm abnormalities.

“It is critical that health care providers weigh the benefits of these medications along with their potential risks when discussing analgesic treatment options with patients who are or may become pregnant, including reproductive-aged women who are not planning a pregnancy but might be at risk of an unintended pregnancy,” the study authors wrote.