Methadone Use During Pregnancy

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20 April, 2018

Methadone is a drug used for the treatment of opioid addiction. It, itself belongs to opioid category. Primarily, it is used in heroin addiction treatment. Methadone is very addictive and extremely potent. Its use is controversial in the treatment of addiction because it is like trading one addiction for the other. However, according to a research conducted by National Institute of Health, methadone has been found to reduce heroin addiction, infectious diseases, mortality and criminal behavior in the users.

Methadone can be used during the pregnancy if an expert finds it safe. Its use is prevailing during the recent years, and according to National Institute of Health, it is far better to keep a pregnant woman on methadone rather than heroin. Heroin is more damaging to the baby and mother as compared to methadone which causes increased gestational period and birth weight.

Heroin is one of the most commonly available street drugs in the United States of America. Hence, heroin addiction is also very common. Therefore, a large number of women is given methadone to deal with heroin addiction during gestation period. Risks of methadone use during pregnancy are fewer than those of heroin abuse, but it is not totally safe.

Consequences of Methadone Usage During Pregnancy:

Use of methadone during pregnancy to avoid heroin intake is no doubt better than abusing heroin. It is extensively used in opiate replacement therapy. This drug works by binding to the opiate receptors in brain reducing cravings for heroin and other opioids. It also blocks euphoric effects of the drugs and severe withdrawal symptoms.  But it is not completely safe. There are a number of effects associated with methadone use during pregnancy. Methadone, being a narcotic causes a person to become dependent on it. This addiction can be passed on to the child during pregnancy. It is very difficult to safely detox a pregnant woman. Detox during pregnancy can be dangerous for both the mother and the fetus. Taking methadone in prescribed amount is much better and safer than heroin and opioid abuse for the pregnant woman as well as the unborn child. Some of the potentially damaging and harmful effects of methadone abuse are following:

  • Post-natal Withdrawal Symptoms:A baby who was continuously exposed to methadone use during the gestation period is likely to be born with methadone addiction. Severe withdrawal symptoms are experienced by the child who is born addicted. The side effects and withdrawal symptoms are so strong and potent that the baby needs to be hospitalized at least for the first few weeks after birth. This condition can be life threatening. Following are the withdrawal symptoms experienced by the baby:
  1. Irritability
  2. Fever
  3. Hyperactivity
  4. Abnormal sleep patterns
  5. High pitched crying
  6. Vomiting
  7. Diarrhea
  8. Failure to gain weight
  9. Uncontrollable shaking of different body parts.

In this case, the baby is treated with methadone to slowly wean him off the drug. The parents should be well aware of the fact that their baby will be born with addiction. They should make proper arrangements to get their child treated to avoid any problem after delivery.

Methadone abuse is not the cause of birth defects in the babies of addicted pregnant women. The withdrawal symptoms can last up to four weeks after delivery.

Methadone abuse during pregnancy has a number of deteriorating effects on the infants. Some of them are the following:

  • Short-term Effects:These effects are immediate after exposure to methadone. Most common ones are mentioned below:
  1. Pinpoint pupils
  2. Nausea
  3. Confusion
  4. Vomiting
  5. Low blood pressure
  6. Dry mouth, nose and eyes
  7. Decreased heart rate
  8. Raised pressure inside the skull
  • Long-term Effects:Fetus exposed to methadone also suffers from some long-term side effects. These are definitely damaging to the baby. Infants exposed to methadone suffer from:
  1. Low birth weight
  2. Decreased fetal growth
  3. Short height
  4. Small head circumference

Fortunately, these effects are less likely to persist in late childhood. Children born to the women who use methadone for either treatment purposes or recreational purposes show permanent but mild deficit in behavioral and psychometric tests even in their late childhood.

  • At the time of birth, different drugs are given to the woman to relieve labor pains, these medications are opioids antagonist while methadone is opioid agonist stimulating the production of various neurotransmitters in the brain. As an effect, antagonist drugs will counteract methadone’s desired effects. This will cause the development of potentially damaging side effects of methadone. Increased labor difficulty and withdrawal symptoms are most likely to occur.
  • Methadone can enter the body of the fetus through placenta and can cause dependence in the baby as well.

Methadone is used to treat heroin addiction. If a woman undergoing methadone treatment gets pregnant, it is advised to continue the treatment, as sudden stop can cause life threatening withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are dangerous for both the mother and the fetus. However, it is way better than heroin abuse.

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