An evidence-based recommendation to increase the dosing frequency of buprenorphine during pregnancy

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2017 Oct;217(4):459.e1-459.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2017.06.029. Epub 2017 Jun 29.


Background: Dose-adjusted plasma concentrations of buprenorphine are significantly decreased during pregnancy compared with the nonpregnant state. This observation suggests that pregnant women may need a higher dose of buprenorphine than nonpregnant individuals to maintain similar drug exposure (plasma concentrations over time after a dose). The current dosing recommendations for buprenorphine during pregnancy address the total daily dose of buprenorphine to be administered, but the frequency of dosing is not clearly addressed. Based on buprenorphine's long terminal half-life, once-daily or twice-daily dosing has generally been suggested.

Objective: The objective of the study was to assess the impact of dosing frequency on buprenorphine plasma concentration time course during pregnancy.

Study design: We utilized 3 data sources to determine an optimal frequency for dosing of buprenorphine during pregnancy: data from a pharmacokinetic study of 14 pregnant and postpartum women on maintenance buprenorphine in a supervised clinical setting; data from pregnant women attending a buprenorphine clinic; and data from a physiologically based pharmacokinetic modeling of buprenorphine pharmacokinetics in nonpregnant subjects.

Results: Among the 14 women participating in the pharmacokinetic study during and after pregnancy, plasma concentrations of buprenorphine were <1 ng/mL (the theoretical concentration required to prevent withdrawal symptoms) for 50-80% of the 12 hour dosing interval while at steady state. Among 62 women followed up in a opioid agonist treatment program, in which dosing frequency is determined in part by patient preference, 10 (16%) were on once-daily dosing, 10 (16%) were on twice-daily dosing, 28 (45%) were on thrice-daily dosing, and 14 (23%) were on four-times-daily dosing. A physiologically based pharmacokinetic model in nonpregnant subjects demonstrated that dosing frequency has an impact on the duration over which the plasma concentrations are below a specified plasma concentration threshold.

Conclusion: A more frequent dosing interval (ie, three-times-daily or four-times-daily dosing) may be required in pregnant women to sustain plasma concentrations above the threshold of 1 ng/mL to prevent withdrawal symptoms and to improve adherence.

Keywords: buprenorphine; dosing frequency; pharmacokinetics; pregnancy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Sublingual
  • Adult
  • Buprenorphine / administration & dosage*
  • Buprenorphine / pharmacokinetics
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Narcotic Antagonists / administration & dosage*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine