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Journal Article

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Pregnant Women: A Systematic Review of the Evidence and Implications for Social Work Practice

Amber M. Holbrook and Viba H. Nguyen
Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research
Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 1-19
DOI: 10.1086/680232
Stable URL:
Page Count: 19
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AbstractEvidence-based practice with pregnant clients who are opioid-dependent can be especially challenging because pregnant women are rarely included in clinical trials. The paper synthesizes systematic reviews on the outcomes of medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependent pregnant women and compares the effectiveness of methadone and buprenorphine. We explore evidence on maternal and neonatal outcomes, the safety of breastfeeding, and discuss the implications for social work practice. Searches were conducted in 6 databases. Ten reviews met the inclusion criteria. Results suggest medication-assisted treatment with either methadone or buprenorphine are equally effective in reducing maternal substance use, although methadone may offer slightly higher treatment retention rates when flexible dosing is implemented. Physical parameters and Apgar scores at birth show no significant differences in neonates exposed to methadone versus buprenorphine. Rates of treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome also do not differ. However, when treatment is required burprenorphine may produce a shorter duration of withdrawal. Data on long-term developmental outcomes following in-utero exposure to opioid maintenance medications is inconclusive. Results suggest that there is minimal transmission of either methadone or buprenorphine to the neonate in breast milk. Conclusions are limited by missing data on broader psychosocial and maternal health outcomes. Evidence on long-term developmental outcomes for neonates is also confounded by prenatal drug exposure and environmental factors. Social workers engage with opioid-dependent pregnant women in many settings and can play an important role in ensuring access to treatment, and in addressing misconceptions around medication-assisted treatment for pregnant women with family members, peer supports, and other health care providers.

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