Novel pharmacotherapeutic strategies for treatment of opioid-induced neonatal abstinence syndrome

Gabrielle L. McLemore, Tamorah Lewis, Catherine H. Jones, Estelle B. Gauda

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The non-medical use of prescription drugs, in general, and opioids, in particular, is a national epidemic, resulting in enormous addiction rates, healthcare expenditures, and overdose deaths. Prescription opioids are overly prescribed, illegally trafficked, and frequently abused, all of which have created a new opioid addiction pathway, adding to the number of opioid-dependent newborns requiring treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), and contributing to challenges in effective care in maternal and fetal/neonatal (M-F/N) medicine. The standard of care for illicit or prescription opioid dependence during pregnancy is opioid agonist (methadone or buprenorphine) substitution therapy, which are also frequently abused. The next generation of pharmacotherapies for the treatment of illicit or prescription opioid addiction in the M-F/N interactional dyad must take into consideration the interplay between genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors. Addiction to illicit drugs during pregnancy presents unique challenges to effectively treat the mother, and the developing fetus and infant after delivery. New pharmacotherapies should be safe to the developing fetus, effective in treating the physical and psychological consequences of addiction in the mother, and reduce the incidence and severity of NAS in the infant after birth. More pharmacotherapeutic options should be available to the physician such that a more individualized rather than a one-drug/strategy-fits-all approach can be used. A myriad of new and exciting pharmacotherapeutic strategies for the treatment of opioid dependence and addiction are on the horizon. This review focuses on such three strategies: (i) pharmacotherapeutic targeting of the serotonergic system; (ii) mixed opioid immunotherapeutics (vaccines); (iii) pharmacogenomics as a therapeutic strategy to insure personalized care. We review and discuss how these strategies may offer additional treatment modalities for the treatment of M-F/N during pregnancy and the treatment of the infant after birth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-41
Number of pages7
JournalSeminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Epigenetics
  • Immunotherapeutics
  • Mixed opioid vaccines
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome
  • Pharmacogenomics
  • Serotonin syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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