The opioid epidemic and pregnancy: implications for anesthetic care

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Purpose of review

This review summarizes evolving knowledge regarding adverse maternal, fetal, and neonatal effects of opioid exposure during pregnancy, and current treatment options for opioid use disorder (OUD). Maternal and fetal implications of maternal opioid maintenance with methadone and buprenorphine are described. Finally, acute and chronic pain management strategies in opioid-tolerant parturients are reviewed.

Recent findings

Opioid use among parturients has risen dramatically, with opioid use during pregnancy as high as 20%. Of women with chronic pain, most continue to take opioids during pregnancy. Medication-assisted therapy with methadone or buprenorphine is currently the standard for treatment of opiate use disorder. Buprenorphine has unique pharmacologic properties that account for its preference over methadone. It has also been shown to produce more favorable neonatal outcomes compared with methadone. Increased clearance and volume of distribution associated with pregnancy require adjustment of dosing regimens of both medications. Multimodal adjuncts can be important alternatives for treatment of pain in opioid-tolerant parturients.


The dramatic rise in OUD in pregnancy has had staggering socioeconomic consequences, carrying with it profound maternal and fetal health problems. Medication-assisted treatment utilizing either methadone, or more commonly buprenorphine, is considered the standard of care for OUD during pregnancy. Peripartum pain management for opioid-tolerant patients is challenging and requires consideration for regional anesthesia along with multimodal pharmacotherapy.

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