Management of neonatal abstinence syndrome in neonatal intensive care units: a national survey

J Perinatol. 2006 Jan 1;26(1):15-7. doi: 10.1038/


Aims: To determine the monitoring and treatment of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) following opiate or polydrug exposure in utero.

Methods: A pretested questionnaire was distributed via email to the chiefs of the neonatology divisions with accredited Fellowship programs in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine in the United States.

Results: Of the 102 individuals contacted, 75 participated in the survey. In all, 41 of the respondents (54.5%) have a written policy regarding the management of neonatal NAS. The method of Finnegan is the most commonly used abstinence scoring system (49 of 75, 65%), while only three respondents use the Lipsitz tool. Opioids (tincture of opium, or morphine sulfate solution) are used most commonly for management of both opioid (63% of respondents) and polydrug (52% of respondents) withdrawal, followed by phenobarbital (32 % of respondents) for polydrug withdrawal and methadone (20% of respondents) for opioid withdrawal. In all, 53 respondents (70%) use phenobarbital, and 19 (25%) use intravenous morphine to control opioid withdrawal seizures, while 61 (81%) use phenobarbital in cases of polydrug withdrawal seizures. Only 53 respondents (70%) always use an abstinence scoring system to determine when to start, titrate, or terminate pharmacologic treatment of neonatal NAS.

Conclusion: The management of neonatal psychomotor behavior consistent with withdrawal varies widely, with inconsistent policies to determine its presence or treatment. Only about half of NICUs have written guidelines for the management of NAS, which may preclude effective auditing of this practice. Educational interventions may be necessary to ensure changes in clinical practice.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / administration & dosage
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Methadone / administration & dosage
  • Methadone / therapeutic use
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Morphine / therapeutic use
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Phenobarbital / administration & dosage
  • Phenobarbital / therapeutic use
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Phenobarbital