Treating pregnant women dependent on opioids is not the same as treating pregnancy and opioid dependence: a knowledge synthesis for better treatment for women and neonates

Addiction. 2008 Sep;103(9):1429-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02283.x.


Aims: Through a novel synthesis of the literature and our own clinical experience, we have derived a set of evidence-based recommendations for consideration as guidance in the management of opioid-dependent pregnant women and infants.

Methods: PubMed literature searches were carried out to identify recent key publications in the areas of pregnancy and opioid dependence, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) prevention and treatment, multiple substance abuse and psychiatric comorbidity.

Results: Pregnant women dependent on opioids require careful treatment to minimize harm to the fetus and neonate and improve maternal health. Applying multi-disciplinary treatment as early as possible, allowing medication maintenance and regular monitoring, benefits mother and child both in the short and the long term. However, there is a need for randomized clinical trials with sufficient sample sizes.

Recommendations: Opioid maintenance therapy is the recommended treatment approach during pregnancy. Treatment decisions must encompass the full clinical picture, with respect to frequent complications arising from psychiatric comorbidities and the concomitant consumption of other drugs. In addition to standardized approaches to pregnancy, equivalent attention must be given to the treatment of NAS, which occurs frequently after opioid medication.

Conclusion: Methodological flaws and inconsistencies confound interpretation of today's literature. Based on this synthesis of available evidence and our clinical experience, we propose recommendations for further discussion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Diagnosis, Dual (Psychiatry)
  • Female
  • GABA Modulators / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotics / therapeutic use*
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Phenobarbital / therapeutic use*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / rehabilitation*


  • GABA Modulators
  • Narcotics
  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Phenobarbital