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FILE - This Aug. 29, 2018 photo shows an arrangement of prescription Oxycodone pills in New York. In a report released on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, health officials are looking into a possible link between prescription opioids and a birth defect called gastroschisis. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

NEW YORK (AP) — Health officials are looking into a possible link between prescription opioids and a horrific birth defect.

Babies born with the defect have their intestines hanging outside the stomach, due to a hole in the abdominal wall. Surgery is often needed to fix it.

Roughly 1,800 such cases are seen in the U.S. each year, but the number has been rising.

A study released Thursday noted cases were 60 percent more common in counties that had highest opioid prescription rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study focused on 20 states.

The study does not say opioids caused the cases. But it echoes earlier research that found a higher risk of birth defects when moms took opioid painkillers like oxycodone just before, or early in, pregnancy.

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