Methadone versus buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid abuse in pregnancy: science and stigma

Amber M Holbrook
American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 2015, 41 (5): 371-3
The past decade has seen an increase in rates of opioid abuse during pregnancy. This clinical challenge has been met with debate regarding whether or not illicit and prescription opioid-dependent individuals require different treatment approaches; whether detoxification is preferable to maintenance; and the efficacy of methadone versus buprenorphine as treatment options during pregnancy. The clinical recommendations resulting from these discussions are frequently influenced by the comparative stigma attached to heroin abuse and methadone maintenance versus prescription opioid abuse and maintenance treatment with buprenorphine. While some studies have suggested that a subset of individuals who abuse prescription opioids may have different characteristics than heroin users, there is currently no evidence to suggest that buprenorphine is better suited to treatment of prescription opioid abuse than methadone. Similarly, despite its perennial popularity, there is no evidence to recommend detoxification as an efficacious approach to treatment of opioid dependence during pregnancy. While increased access to treatment is important, particularly in rural areas, there are multiple medical and psychosocial reasons to recommend comprehensive substance abuse treatment for pregnant women suffering from substance use disorders rather than office-based provision of maintenance medication. Both methadone and buprenorphine are important treatment options for opioid abuse during pregnancy. Methadone may still remain the preferred treatment choice for some women who require higher doses for stabilization, have a higher risk of treatment discontinuation, or who have had unsuccessful treatment attempts with buprenorphine. As treatment providers, we should advocate to expand available treatment options for pregnant women in all States.

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