Neonatal abstinence syndrome: essentials for the practitioner

J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Jul;19(3):147-55. doi: 10.5863/1551-6776-19.3.147.


The incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) has increased dramatically during the past 15 years, likely due to an increase in antepartum maternal opiate use. Optimal care of these patients is still controversial because of the available published literature lacking sufficient sample size, placebo control, and comparative pharmacologic trials. Primary treatment for NAS consists of opioid replacement therapy with either morphine or methadone. Paregoric and tincture of opium have been abandoned because of relative safety concerns. Buprenorphine is emerging as a treatment option with promising initial experience. Adjunctive agents should be considered for infants failing treatment with opioid monotherapy. Traditionally, phenobarbital has been used as adjunctive therapy; however, results of clonidine as adjunctive therapy for NAS appear to be beneficial. Future directions for research in NAS should include validating a simplified scoring tool, conducting comparative studies, exploring home management options, and optimizing management through pharmacogenomics.

Keywords: abstinence syndrome; buprenorphine; clonidine; methadone; morphine.

Publication types

  • Review