Buprenorphine During Pregnancy Better than Methadone for Reducing Newborn's Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Babies born to opioid-dependent women treated with burprenorphine during pregnancy had significantly fewer withdrawal symptoms than those born to women treated with methadone, according to a Dec. 9 NIH News press release.

As part of an international study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), researchers led by Hendrée Jones, Ph.D., director of the Center for Addiction and Pregnancy at Johns Hopkins University, randomized 131 opioid-dependent pregnant women from eight multi-country sites to either methadone or buprenorphine, and followed them until one month after giving birth.

Although methadone is the current recommended treatment for opioid dependence during pregnancy, the researchers found buprenorphine to be significantly better at reducing symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) — a cluster of symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal — among the newborns, reducing postnatal NAS treatment from 10 days to four.

Further, methadone showed no superiority to buprenorphine in terms of health outcomes or decreasing maternal and infant adverse events.

“In addition to providing support for the viability of buprenorphine to treat pregnant women, we were able to closely examine the severity of NAS following prenatal exposure to methadone or buprenorphine,” said Jones.

“We were pleased to be able to identify a medication that lessens the withdrawal distress to newborns and gets them out of the hospital more quickly,” she concluded.

The study was published in the Dec. 9 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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