Opiates, Methadone, OxyContin and Pregnancy

Trying to detox from opiates while pregnant is not a recommended action. If you are dependent on opiates – methadone, heroin, oxycodone or other prescription drugs – please call us BEFORE you get pregnant.

One of our saddest moments at Novus is when we are contacted by a woman who is addicted to narcotics like methadone or OxyContin and is pregnant. It is sad for us because our facility cannot provide the type of medical care that is needed to safely detox a pregnant woman. Few facilities do.

But we can help before pregnancy, with the most comfortable, safest and most effective detox available anywhere. Learn more about why Novus is different.

What is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in opiate addiction?

Babies born to mothers taking methadone or OxyContin or other dangerous drugs will frequently have a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome (“NAS”).

According to the National Institute of Health, NAS can occur when the mother is taking the following drugs:

  • Amphetamines (Ritalin, Adderall)
  • Antidepressants (Paxil, Zoloft)
  • Antipsychotics (Seroquel, Zyprexa)
  • Barbiturates (Phenobarbital)
  • Cocaine
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin)
  • Marijuana
  • Opiates/Opioids (heroin, methadone, codeine, OxyContin, Vicodin, oxycodone)

It is known that when these drugs are taken by the mother, they will be metabolized by the mother and pass through the mother’s bloodstream into the placenta–the organ that connects the baby to its mother in the womb–and go into the bloodstream of the fetus. Predictably, but tragically, many babies become dependent on the drug and suffer painful withdrawal symptoms when they are withdrawn from the drug.

Of course, these drugs are not the only substances that can cause problems for the baby. Alcohol is another and has its own syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which causes many problems similar to NAS.

Frequency of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in mothers taking methadone and OxyContin

The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs estimates that NAS occurs in at least three percent of the births in the United States, and it is increasing. In an article in the Archives of Disease in Childhood – Fetal and Neonatal Edition , it is stated, “Opiates, such as heroin and methadone, cause withdrawal in over half of babies exposed prenatally. Cocaine may cause some withdrawal, but the main symptoms in the baby are due to the toxic effects of the drug itself. Other drugs such as amphetamines, barbiturates, and narcotics can also cause withdrawal. Alcohol use causes withdrawal in the baby, as well as a group of problems including birth defects called fetal alcohol syndrome.”

Adverse effects on babies from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

While most pregnant mothers know that drinking alcohol, drug use and smoking can have a harmful effect on their baby, someone who has become dependent on or addicted to drugs or alcohol is normally unwilling or unable to stop taking drugs or drinking. Research has shown that the use of drugs or alcohol while the mother is pregnant is associated with the following health problems:

  • Birth defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Seizures
  • Being stillborn (the baby is dead when delivered)
  • Smaller than normal size of the head
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome symptoms in babies after birth

While symptoms can appear right after birth, they can also be delayed for five to ten days and can last for weeks. NAS is difficult to diagnose because some of the symptoms can be of other problems as well. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Blotchy skin coloring (mottling)
  • HIV virus
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive or high-pitched crying
  • Excessive sucking
  • Fever
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Irritability
  • Eating problems
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Sleep problems
  • Slow weight gain
  • Stuffy nose, sneezing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling (tremors)
  • Vomiting

Common tests for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in babies born to addicted mothers

Of course, the first thing to determine is if the mother is using one of these drugs. If she is, then it is likely that many of the babies will have NAS. Here are some of the tests that can be done on the baby:

  • A scoring system, which assigns points based on each symptom and its severity. The infant’s score can help determine treatment.
  • Toxicology screen of first bowel movements which contain only what was consumed by the baby in the womb (called meconium)
  • Urine test (urinalysis)

Treatment options for babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

If a child is diagnosed with NAS, the form of treatment depends on several things including:

  • The infant’s overall health
  • Whether the baby was born premature
  • Whether the baby was born full-term

Babies with NAS may need to receive medicine similar to an adult who is having withdrawal symptoms. Medicines may include:

  • A benzodiazepine like Valium for alcohol withdrawal
  • Methadone for heroin and other opiate withdrawal
  • The same drug that the mother was taking and then reduce the amount of the drug until the baby has withdrawn

Personal experience of a nurse who has had to treat babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

One of the advantages of being frequently quoted is that people send you information about problems stemming from drug use. With her permission, I am going to print the contents of two emails that I received from Judy, a nurse who has to deal with the problems created by NAS and particularly by the mistaken idea that the way to treat heroin addiction is not with actual treatment but with methadone—a more addictive and destructive drug.

Here is what she said: “Thank you for your prompt response to my email. I have read a lot of the same literature that you have that plays down the ill effects of being on methadone while pregnant. What I’m trying to find out is if there are any methadone clinics that at least encourage, if not require, birth control while on the program so that these babies aren’t born under the influence in the first place. From what I understand, and I’m planning on investigating further, the methadone clinics in my area don’t go over any of the risks to the baby with these girls at all, so they get pregnant expecting to take a normal baby home in 2 days like everyone else.

“I don’t know what the long-term effects to these babies are, if any, but after witnessing the horrible suffering that these babies go through when they are tiny newborns and more and more babies being born under the influence of this drug, I can’t sit back any more and do nothing.

“I work in a very small, rural hospital, and about 4 years ago, we had ZERO babies born under the influence of drugs. Since then, it has progressively gotten worse. We now usually have at least one baby withdrawing from drugs. Last week we had twelve babies at one time, and seven of them were withdrawing from drugs. Two of these babies were withdrawing from methadone, and they were the ones that had the worst symptoms and had to be on morphine to try to decrease their symptoms.

“They both had to be hospitalized for approximately three weeks before we could get them completely off the morphine and discharge them.

“If we suspect drug use by the mother when she comes to us in labor, either by her admission, little or no prenatal care, prior known drug use, etc., we do a urine drug screen on her. Then, after the delivery, the baby’s urine is tested, and a meconium drug screen is also done. The urine drug screens, which we get the results of within about an hour, show what is currently in the patient’s system as of the last day or two. The meconium drug screen, which takes about 10 days for the results to come back, shows what has been in the baby’s system for the last several weeks. We also begin Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Scoring (NASS) on the baby, which means that we check their vital signs and score them every 4 hours around the clock. The way the scoring system works is that points are assigned to certain withdrawal symptoms that the baby is exhibiting and the severity of each. Different symptoms that we see include increased temperature, increased respiratory rate, tremors, high-pitched crying, poor feeding, sleep problems, tight muscle tone, excoriation of the skin, sneezing, diarrhea (which causes terrible diaper rash), excessive and inconsolable crying, in addition to many others. If the baby scores an 8 or above, we then score them again in 2 hours. If they get an 8 or above for 3 consecutive times, they are then started on morphine, and the dosage is adjusted slowly up or down every few days, depending on their NASS score, the goal being to ultimately wean them off of the morphine. When they are started on morphine, it usually takes weeks before they are weaned off completely (a normal baby is usually discharged after two days).

“In addition to the morphine, these babies usually need a lot of care, swaddling, a dark and quiet environment, and sometimes it is just not possible to comfort them because of their irritability and suffering. The worst thing is that IT CAN AND SHOULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED.”


As Judy says, you have babies suffering but you don’t know how many other problems that the baby will have because they were subjected to these poisons while in the womb. At Novus Medical Detox Center, we specialize in helping people find a cure to the problems caused by drugs and alcohol. We want to help you before you get pregnant and have to experience seeing your own child go through any of the above.

People come to us for a safe and more comfortable:

OxyContin detox; Vicodin detox; Oxycodone detox; Methadone detox; Heroin detox; Hydrocodone detox; Alcohol detox; Paxil and Zoloft detox; Detox from other unwanted drugs.

Please contact us if we can help you or someone that you know.


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