Use of clonidine in the prevention and management of neonatal abstinence syndrome

Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2009 Jul;47(6):551-5. doi: 10.1080/15563650902980019.


Introduction: Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a complicated medical condition with treatment regimens that traditionally have included methadone and other opioids, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. We describe a case series in which clonidine was used for the prevention and management of patients with NAS.

Patients and methods: Medical records of infants treated with clonidine for NAS from January 2003 to March 2006 were reviewed for gestational age, birth weight, NAS score, dose of clonidine, duration of treatment, and additional medications required.

Results: Fourteen patients were identified. The mean gestational age was 30.1 weeks (range 24.4-40.7 weeks); three patients were full-term. Eleven had been on intravenous fentanyl for sedation; three were born to opioid-dependent mothers. All patients were treated with clonidine, administered in doses of 0.5-1.0 mcg/kg orally every 6 h. No patient received opioids. Mean duration of treatment was 6.8 days (range 4-15). Mean abstinence scores were 6.4 pretreatment (range 0-20) and 1.9 posttreatment (range 0-5). No patients suffered an adverse event (hypotension, bradycardia, excessive sedation, and oxygen desaturation) from clonidine administration, and no seizures were identified.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that clonidine may be a reasonable alternative to more traditional agents used to prevent or treat NAS. We agree with the statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs that states that larger trials and pharmacologic data are needed before the routine use of clonidine can be recommended.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adrenergic alpha-Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Clonidine / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adrenergic alpha-Agonists
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Clonidine