Buprenorphine use in pregnant opioid users: a critical review

CNS Drugs. 2013 Aug;27(8):653-62. doi: 10.1007/s40263-013-0072-z.


Pregnancy in opioid users poses a number of problems to treating physicians. Most guidelines recommend maintenance treatment to manage opioid addiction in pregnancy, with methadone being the gold standard. More recently, buprenorphine has been discussed as an alternate medication. The use and efficacy of buprenorphine in pregnancy is still controversial. This article reviews the current database on the basis of a detailed and critical literature search performed in MEDLINE (206 counts). Most of the relevant studies (randomised clinical trials and one national cohort sample) were published in the last 2 years and mainly compared buprenorphine with methadone. Some studies are related to maternal outcomes, others to foetal, neonatal or older child outcomes. With respect to maternal outcomes, most studies suggest that buprenorphine has similar effects to methadone. Very few data from small studies discuss an effect of buprenorphine on neurodevelopment of the foetus. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is common in infants of both buprenorphine- and methadone-maintained mothers. As regards neonatal outcomes, buprenorphine has the same clinical outcome as methadone, although some newer studies suggest that it causes fewer withdrawal symptoms. Since hardly any studies have investigated the combination of buprenorphine with naloxone (which has been suggested to possibly have teratogenic effects) in pregnant women, a switch to buprenorphine monotherapy is recommended in women who become pregnant while receiving the combination product. These novel findings indicate that buprenorphine is emerging as a first-line treatment for pregnant opioid users.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Buprenorphine / administration & dosage*
  • Buprenorphine / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / adverse effects
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*


  • Buprenorphine