How Safe is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Pregnant Women?

Friday, August 9, 2019 | By Chris Clancy

MAT and Pregnant Women

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for pregnant women living with opioid use disorders might at first sound like a risky proposition, but, for many in the addiction treatment industry, it could be just what the doctor ordered.

And with nearly 88 infants diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome every day, health care systems in Kentucky are taking measures to counteract the trend by any means available.

“It’s becoming more normalized,” said Danielle Murray, MAT Manager at JourneyPure Bowling Green, regarding pregnant women undergoing MAT treatment. “There have been many women treated and it’s had no effect on delivering a healthy baby.”

What is MAT?

MAT is used to relieve the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal and reduce the psychological cravings that occur when a person stops abusing substances. It is a leading treatment modality for those addicted to opioids like heroin, codeine, OxyContin, and Percocet.

Freed from cravings, the recovering patient is able focus on other aspects of her life: employment, relationships, and impending motherhood.

Recent studies suggest that treatment with an opioid agonist like buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone and Subutex, actually improves pregnancy outcomes for women with opioid use disorders, having shown to reduce the risk of stillbirth.

Of course, buprenorphine still results in the baby being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), but the withdrawal symptoms are much more manageable, Murray says.

“In my time, I’ve seen babies born with a dependence on Subutex [buprenorphine], but it’s much easier to treat a newborn baby with a Subutex dependency, and their times in the NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] are much lower.”

Safety of MAT


Fighting the Stigma

One of the biggest challenges in matching pregnant women with opioid use disorder to necessary MAT is the stigma, or the negative connotations of soon-to-be mothers needing professional help for their addiction.

“There is such a stigmatism against pregnant women and addiction treatment that many of them fear asking for help,” Murray said. “A lot of that goes back to their OBGYN—some of our older professionals are less willing to approve a pregnant patient for Subutex, rather than the newer OBGYNs, who have a better understanding of addiction. Fortunately, it’s finally being brought to the surface.”

Older OBGYNs aren’t the only ones harboring a stigma against MAT. Many in the recovery community itself tend to view the use of opioid agonists in treating opioid use disorder sideways.

“A lot of people have this idea that MAT is just substituting one addiction for another,” Murray said. “What I say to that is no. Some MAT medications are opioid-based, but an important point to remember is the difference between a physical addiction to a substance that helps people live a normal life and addiction to a substance that involves criminal involvement or death.”

Plus, MAT involves much more than just the dispensation of drugs to ease cravings. An effective MAT program, like the one found at JourneyPure Bowling Green, involves heavy doses of individual and group therapy and life skills coaching.

“Yes, some MAT medications can be abused, just like any controlled substance,” Murray said, “but the way our treatment facilities are different is that we maintain accountability standards. If someone is misusing their medication, we’re able to catch that through drug screenings and random medication counts. If a patient comes in with six pills when they’re supposed to have ten, someone is going to sit that patient down and ask what is going on.”

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Being addicted to drugs or alcohol is no way to live. You do not need to continue on this path. Call JourneyPure Bowling Green now to get the help that you deserve.

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