A study of factors that influence the severity of neonatal narcotic withdrawal

Addict Dis. 1975;2(1-2):187-99.


1. History is unreliable in assessing maternal drug habit. Morphine was detected in significant amounts in maternal and fetal urine regardless of whether the mother was on a methadone program or whether she denied any use of heroin during the last trimester of pregnancy. 2. Infants born to drug-addicted mothers were, in general, of birthweight normal and appropriate for gestational age (i.e., greater that 10th percentile). The infants born to mothers on a methadone clinic program had a higher birthweight compared to those whose mothers were not on any methadone program. 3. In order of frequency, the signs and symptoms of withdrawal were: central nervous system manifestations-fist sucking, irritability, tremors, sneezing, high-pitch cry, hypertonia; vasomotor in the form of stuffy nose; and gastrointestinal in the form of sweating, diarrhea, vomiting and yawning. Convulsions were not noted. No death occurred. 4. The severity of neonatal narcotic withdrawal did not correlate with the infant's gestational age, APGAR, sex or race; nor with maternal age, parity, duration of heroin addiction or duration of methadone intake. Also, it did not correlate with the total morphine level measured either in infant's or mother's urine or in cord blood. The serum levels of calcium and glucose were normal and identical in either mild or severe withdrawal. 5. The severity of neonatal withdrawal correlated significantly with the methadone dose per day of the mother (in initial, final or average dose). A maternal methadone dose of more than 20 mg per day was associated with a higher incidence of moderate to severe withdrawal in their babies. As a corollary, it was also noted that infants whose mothers were on a high methadone dose (i.e., greater than 20 mg per day) had a greater postnatal weight loss despite a significantly higher birthweight initially, and stayed in the hospital longer. 6. Finally, the modification of the environment to reduce external stimuli to the infant born to a drug-dependent mother, does not prevent or diminish the severity of neonatal narcotic withdrawal. Thus, there is no need to manage these infants in a special nursery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Bilirubin / blood
  • Birth Weight
  • Body Weight
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Heroin Dependence / complications*
  • Heroin Dependence / therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / diagnosis
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / etiology*
  • Lighting
  • Methadone / administration & dosage
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Noise
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / etiology*


  • Bilirubin
  • Methadone