A Swedish Population-based Study of Adverse Birth Outcomes among Pregnant Women Treated with Buprenorphine or Methadone: Preliminary Findings

Subst Abuse. 2016 Sep 15;10:89-97. doi: 10.4137/SART.S38887. eCollection 2016.


Background: Untreated opioid dependence in pregnant women is associated with adverse birth outcomes. Buprenorphine and methadone are options for opioid agonist medication-assisted treatment during pregnancy.

Objective: The aim of this study was to describe adverse birth outcomes observed with buprenorphine or methadone treatment compared to the general population in Sweden.

Methods: Pregnant women and their corresponding births during 2005-2011 were identified in the Swedish Medical Birth Register. Data on stillbirth, neonatal/infant death, mode of delivery, gestational age at birth, Apgar score, growth outcomes, neonatal abstinence syndrome, and congenital malformations were examined. Frequencies were compared using two-sided Fisher's exact tests. Unadjusted estimates of birth outcomes for women treated with buprenorphine or methadone were compared to the registered general population.

Results: A total of 746,257 pregnancies among 538,178 unique women resulted in 746,485 live births. Among the 194 women treated with buprenorphine (N = 176) or methadone (N = 52), no stillbirths or neonatal/infant deaths occurred. Neonatal abstinence syndrome developed in 23.3% and 38.5% of infants born to mothers treated with buprenorphine and methadone, respectively. The frequency of the selected adverse birth outcomes assessed in women treated with buprenorphine as compared to the general population was not significantly different. However, a significantly higher frequency of preterm birth and congenital malformations was observed in women treated with methadone as compared to the general population. Compared with the general population, methadone-treated women were significantly older than buprenorphine-treated women, and both treatment groups began prenatal care later, were more likely to smoke cigarettes, and did not cohabitate with the baby's father.

Conclusions: An increased frequency of the selected adverse birth outcomes was not observed with buprenorphine treatment during pregnancy. Twofold increased frequency of preterm birth [2.21 (1.11, 4,41)] and congenital malformations [2.05 (1.08, 3.87)] was observed in the methadone group, which may be partly explained by older average maternal age and differences in other measured and unmeasured confounders.

Keywords: buprenorphine; methadone; opioid agonist medication-assisted treatment; opioid dependence; opioid use disorder; pregnancy.