Time to initiation of treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome in neonates exposed in utero to buprenorphine or methadone

Diann E. Gaalema, Sarah H. Heil, Gary J. Badger, Jerilyn S. Metayer, Anne M. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The recommended standard of care calls for treating opioid-dependent pregnant women with methadone and observing neonates exposed in utero for five to seven postnatal days to see if treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is needed. Data from a large multi-site randomized clinical trial comparing buprenorphine vs. methadone for the treatment of opioid dependence during pregnancy suggest buprenorphine-exposed neonates had less severe NAS, but may require pharmacologic treatment for NAS later than methadone-exposed neonates. The present study examined whether time to pharmacologic treatment initiation differed in a relatively large non-blinded clinical sample of buprenorphine- vs. methadone-exposed neonates treated for NAS. Methods: Medical records for 75 neonates exposed to buprenorphine (n= 47) or methadone (n= 28) in utero who required treatment for NAS were examined. Time elapsed between birth and initiation of pharmacologic treatment was calculated for each neonate and time to treatment initiation compared between groups. Results: Median time to treatment initiation (hours:minutes, IQR) was significantly later in buprenorphine- vs. methadone-exposed neonates (71:02, 44:21-96:27 vs. 34:12, 21:00-55:41, respectively, p< .001). Estimates of mean time to treatment initiation from parametric analyses that adjusted for maternal and neonatal characteristics were very similar (73:10 (95% CI: 61:00-87:18) vs. 42:36 (95% CI: 33:06-53:30), respectively, p= .0005). This difference was not dependent on maternal age or neonatal sex, gestational age, or birth weight. Conclusions: These findings confirm results from randomized clinical trials, adding generality to the observation that buprenorphine-exposed neonates require treatment significantly later than methadone-exposed neonates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-269
Number of pages4
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome
  • Opioids
  • Pregnancy
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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