Expand Access to MAT for Pregnant Women

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Return to  Opioid Top-Level Strategy Map or ZOOM MAP - Expand Steps to Minimize Opioid Use During Pregnancy or Pregnancy during Opioid Use


Maintenance Therapy Drugs
Medically supervised tapering of opioids in pregnant women is associated with high relapse rates as compared to methadone maintenance.[1]

Women who need maintenance therapy drugs often struggle to get them. To get buprenorphine, they must go to one of the state's few doctors with a special license. To get methadone, they must go regularly to a clinic — in Middle Tennessee there's one in Nashville and one in Columbia. Women must often pay out of pocket. And many women of child-bearing age don't qualify for TennCare until they find themselves pregnant. That makes it difficult for an addict to access family planning or mental health preventive care before becoming pregnant.[2]

Tennessee's three managed care companies — Amerigroup, UnitedHealthcare's Medicaid subsidiary and BlueCross BlueShield's BlueCare program — are trying to reach these women earlier to ensure that more babies are born healthy. All have flagged drug-dependent babies as a major cost issue. BlueCross, for example, covered 775 such babies in 2013 [must be nationwide]. [at $50,000 each, which is a low estimate of incremental cost over a normal birth, that cost BlueCross about 38 million.] All three have launched efforts to help expectant mothers beat their addictions.[3]

Key Information

  • There are often long waiting periods to get women into treatment.[4]
    • Although pregnant women actually receive priority for methadone treatment, once they are not pregnant they return tot the long waiting periods and the motivation to pursue treatment may be deterred by these waits[5]
  • Women often experience anxiety about what will happen if they can no longer pay for their methadone treatments[6]
    • There is a need for increased grant funding to help women stay in treatment once they are enrolled[7]
  • Women have misconceptions about methadone and are unclear about the treatment process[8]
  • 13 states give pregnant women priority access to general programs for drug treatment.[9]
  • 4 states protect pregnant women from discrimination in publicly funded programs.[10]
  • 18 states consider substance abuse during pregnancy to be grounds for child abuse.[11]

Relevant Research

A 2012 study of medical students in an obstetrics and gynecology rotation found that when students are placed in a residential treatment center for pregnant women (i.e. specialized training) they showed greater comfort in assessing and educating patients about substance abuse during pregnancy compared to those in a regular rotation.[12]Provider's Clinical Support System (PCSS) fpr MAT provides many free online trainings and resources to help address the opioid crisis, including "Opioid Dependence in Pregnancy: Clinical Challenges."

New 2018 Clinical Guide by SAMHSA

This new. detailed, 165-page guide has SAMHSA's latest recommendations on Clinical Guidance for Treating Pregnant Women with OUD and their Infants.

Split Dosing to Reduce Risk

The following quote shares some insights and potential benefits of "split dosing" of methadone. The article has more details.[13]
"Part of the confusion relates to the question of whether giving the mother high doses of methadone worsens NAS. A recent meta-analysis of 67 studies found this not to be the case.* The fetus is not exposed to the maternal dose; it is exposed to the maternal plasma level. We know that plasma levels vary significantly, depending on genetics. And pregnant women metabolize methadone more quickly, necessitating dose increases—but these increases do not necessarily increase fetal exposure to methadone.
One mother in our pregnancy program required 270 mg/day of methadone, in four divided doses. Her plasma level, before the morning dose one week before delivery, was undetectable. After birth, the baby required no treatment for NAS. We don’t know how many physicians are willing to prescribe these high, split doses to keep the mother and fetus out of withdrawal. We don’t know whether programs use maternal plasma methadone levels to monitor changes in maternal metabolism and fetal exposure.
In pregnancy, split doses of methadone protect the fetus from exposure to daily cycles of peaks and troughs, which have been shown to have negative physiologic effects on the fetus.* Even high doses, when given as single daily doses, can result in fetal withdrawal distress before the next day’s dose. That may be why high doses, at times, seem to cause more cases of NAS: The fetus may be sensitized to daily episodes of withdrawal.* Some mothers, like our patient who received 270 mg daily, are ultra-rapid metabolizers; the methadone exposure for their fetuses is far more consistent and physiologic when dosing is four times a day."[14]
The approach used in one study for women on methadone (that used higher doses split into 2 or 4 doses per day yielded significantly lower rates of NAS.[15]
Another study on split dosing also showed benefits. More research is needed.
Since DNA tests can help to understand the way a person will metabolize different drugs, it could be tested to advance a precision medicine approach to MAT for pregnant women. . More research is needed on this issue.

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment block grants have recently been revised to strengthen capacity to deliver MAT for pregnant women with substance use disorders.[17]

Promising Practices

Methadone clinics should provide information sessions and materials to help pregnant women prepare for the experience of delivering their babies at hospitals. These should include the following:[16]
  • What to expect in regards to pain management
  • Infant withdrawal symptoms
  • CPS involvement
  • Treatment approaches for withdrawing infants
  • How to work with doctors and nurses to help the process go smoothly
  • Advice for comforting methadone-exposed babies once they come home

Available Tools and Resources

TR - Expand Access to MAT for Pregnant Women


  1. ACOG Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women; American Society of Addiction Medicine. ACOG committee opinion no. 524: opioid abuse, dependence, and addiction in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 2012;119:1070–6
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. [4]
  6. [5]
  7. [6]
  8. [7]
  9. [8]
  10. [9]
  11. [10]
  12. [11]
  13. ACOG Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women; American Society of Addiction Medicine. ACOG committee opinion no. 524: opioid abuse, dependence, and addiction in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 2012;119:1070–6
  14. [12]
  15. [13]
  16. [14]
  17. [15]