There is a fascinating article in The New York Times which explores the use of methadone and buprenorphine in treating babies born addicted to opioids. While this is often an emotionally-charged subject, it is a very important topic and points to the benefit of methadone in relieving suffering and in stabilizing one’s health through the elimination of painful opioid withdrawal.
The article explains the dilemma that hospitals face when an opioid addicted woman is pregnant. Depending on the type and length of her opioid use, her baby may be born with an opioid dependence. And the newborn could begin experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms within 1 to 5 days.
The Times article addresses the use of methadone (or buprenorphine) in alleviating a baby’s suffering. Prior to birth, methadone has also been used to reduce the chance of miscarriage and the probability of in utero seizures. Many doctors have little to no experience with this type of treatment, and are consequently apprehensive about taking on the risk of treating an opioid addicted mother-to-be.
As of yet, there is no single universal protocol which has been established for treating newborns with methadone. However, several medical centers have been working in this area using a combination of medications such as methadone, phenobarbital, clonidine, and buprenorphine.
Early indications suggest that it is hard to predict which infants will need opioid replacement medication. To determine which babies may be experiencing withdrawal, nurses use a checklist of symptoms and assess each baby every few hours … if the baby has been identified as “at risk” due to the mother’s opioid addiction.
The Times article goes on to speak about the growing opioid addiction in America and the need for medical professionals to further educate themselves on available treatment options. We all need to remain solution-oriented, and to address this problem straight on in a constructive fashion. Thankfully, opioid addiction is a treatable illness, and opioid replacement therapy is a viable option for coping with this growing epidemic.
Methadone and buprenorphine are the best interventions we have at present for treating opioid addiction. Without them, many addicted persons would remain lost in their addiction for years on end. And babies born to addicted mothers would needlessly suffer. With time and good public education on opioid replacement, more people will find their way into a life of recovery.