Media Advisory

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

NIH scientists call attention to the impact of opioids on women and children


Understanding the full effects of the nation’s opioid epidemic requires coordinated, long-term research involving women of reproductive age and children, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health. In an editorial in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Diana W. Bianchi, M.D., director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and Matthew W. Gillman, M.D., S.M., director of NIH’s Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program, emphasize that women and children bear a substantial burden of the U.S. opioid epidemic. They write that misuse of opioids before and during pregnancy can raise the risk of health consequences for both woman and child, potentially leading to intergenerational cycles of opioid overuse.

Opioid exposure during pregnancy is known to cause neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, or neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can make newborns irritable and inconsolable and have trouble eating and sleeping. These infants are also at higher risk of developing behavioral and educational problems later in life. Furthermore, many women have gynecological conditions, such as endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts, and pelvic inflammatory disease, that may require lifelong use of medications like opioids to relieve chronic pain. 

The authors note that coordinated, long-term research is essential to filling gaps in current knowledge about how opioids affect women and children. NIH is currently leading the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM) Initiative as part of the Department of Health and Human Services comprehensive strategy to address opioid use disorder in the United States. A component of HEAL, called Advancing Clinical Trials in Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (ACT NOW), specifically addresses the medical and social needs of infants who were exposed to opioids in the womb. ACT NOW is led by NICHD and ECHO and will include large-scale clinical trials conducted across the United States.


Diana W. Bianchi, M.D., NICHD Director and one of the authors of the article, is available for interviews. Call 301-496-5133 or e-mail



Bianchi DW, Gillman MW. Addressing the Impact of Opioids on Women and Children. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology DOI: 10.1016/j.ajog.2019.02.050 (2019)

About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD conducts and supports research in the United States and throughout the world on fetal, infant and child development; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit NICHD’s website.

About the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program: ECHO is a nationwide research program designed to understand the effects of a broad range of early environmental influences on child health and development. ECHO’s IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trials Research Network provides access to state-of-the-art clinical trials for rural and underserved children. For more information, visit ECHO’s website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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