Morrisey pushing federal officials on drug warnings

CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Attorney General has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require warnings for pregnant women on opioid-based pain killers.

The “black-box” warnings should alert women that using the medicine during pregnancy could cause Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said.

The syndrome is a group of problems a newborn experiences when exposed to addictive illegal and prescription drugs in the womb, he said. It can include problems with an infant’s autonomic nervous system, respiratory system and gastrointestinal tract.

Signs include abnormal sleep pattern, tremors, vomiting, high-pitched crying, irritability, hyperactivity, seizures, weight loss and failure to gain weight.

Morrisey on Monday said West Virginia has joined 42 other states and territories in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration for the black box warnings. Boxed warnings on a prescription drug’s label are designed to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks.

The letter from the attorneys general requests the FDA add the warning to let women of child-bearing age, as well as their doctors and pharmacists, know about the serious risks associated with the narcotics use during pregnancy.

“Women who are pregnant need to understand the risks associated with taking prescription pain medicine to their unborn children,” Morrisey said. “The addition of a black box warning will help get the message out that the medication they are taking could have a serious impact on the health of their baby.”

The problem of drug-addicted infants is not new, but statistics indicate it is becoming more common. Earlier this year, a report issued at the seventh annual Drug Prevention Summit in Huntington showed that 75 out of every 1,000 babies born at Cabell Huntington Hospital have been exposed to drugs or alcohol. The national average is 5 per 1,000.

Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem around the state, Morrisey said. It is imperative, he said, for the FDA to include the additional warning on labels for prescription pain pills.

“The drug abuse problem is crippling so many West Virginia families and communities,” he said. “But it will be virtually impossible to remedy this plague if babies from their very first breath are fighting off addiction. We need to take every step we can to fight this battle.”