Prenatal Opioid Use Likely Behind Neonatal Abstinence Sx Increase

HealthDay News — The incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome among newborns rose from 1.2 to 3.4 per 1,000 live births between 2000 and 2009, according to an editorial published in The BMJ.

According to Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it’s estimated that 14 to 22% of pregnant women in the United States are prescribed opioids. There has reportedly been an increase in the rate of opioid abuse among pregnant women.

“The steep increase in the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed in the United States has been associated with a parallel rise in their misuse, fatal overdoses, and heroin use,” Dr Volkow writes. “More recently, attention has been focused on the large increase in the number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.” In a journal news release, she added that “high prescribing rates of opioids to women during pregnancy have probably contributed to recent increases in neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

Dr Volkow suggested that opioid prescriptions to pregnant women be restricted to those with severe pain that cannot be controlled with other treatments, and only used for a short time. If long-term use is necessary — such as for women being treated for heroin addiction — then patients should be carefully assessed and monitored to reduce the risk of overdose, misuse, and neonatal abstinence syndrome in their infants.


Volkow ND. Opioids in pregnancy. BMJ. 2016;352:i19.