Prenatal Opiate Exposure including methadone facts

Opiate abuse is increasing in the US and more babies entering foster care have prenatal opiate exposure. Adoption agencies also report that they are seeing more expectant moms who are considering placing their baby for adoption who have also used opiates, including methadone, during their pregnancy. As a result adoptive parents and foster parents need more information on effects of prenatal opiate exposure.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, as well as legally prescribed pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and many others. It also includes drugs/medications used to treat opiate addiction, such as methadone and suboxone.

Foster parents and adoptive parents are often in the position of having to decide whether to adopt a baby that has been exposed to opiates prenatally.

5 Surprising Facts You May Not Know about Prenatal Opiate Exposure (Including Methadone)

  1. Prenatal exposure to opiates causes more severe short-term effects (primarily Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome/ “withdrawal”) compared to other drugs and alcohol but research has found that the long-term effects are often less damaging (cognitive development, learning disabilities, behavior, etc.).
  2. Whether or not the baby is born dependent and experiences withdrawal or has been diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome does not determine the severity of the long-term impacts.
  3. Methadone and suboxone protect the mother and child from exposure to bloodborne diseases from injectable drug abuse, such as Hepatitis, but are not better for the baby in terms of long and short-term impacts from opiate exposure during pregnancy.
  4. Methadone has a longer half-life than other opiates in the blood system; therefore, withdrawal in an infant exposed in utero may be longer than if mother had used other opiates.
  5. Long-term impacts of opiate exposure may be subtle and often do not show up until around age 5-8, including ADHD, trouble shifting between activities, unorganized, etc.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Prenatal Opiate Exposure

I can’t recommend enough the Creating a Family Radio Show on Accepting an Adoption Match with Opiates, Methadone, or Hepatitis with Dr. Julia Bledsoe, a pediatrician specializing in both adoption medicine and prenatal drug and alcohol exposure. It is truly one of our best.

Dr. Bledsoe clearly and succinctly cuts through the tangle of research to help adoptive parents understand the short-term and long-term effects of prenatal opiate exposure.


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Holding hands: Marlon Malabanan