Management of Opioid and Sedative Weaning in Pediatric Congenital Heart Disease Patients: Assessing the State of Practice

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Opioid and sedative medications are commonly used to treat pediatric patients with congenital heart disease; however, their use is not without adverse effects. Symptoms of withdrawal can occur if the medications are discontinued abruptly or weaned too quickly.


The aim of this study was to understand and describe the current management of opioid and sedative weaning in pediatric congenital heart disease patients in freestanding children’s hospitals across the United States.


A Web-based survey of pediatric congenital heart centers was conducted. Survey participants were recruited from the Consortium of Congenital Cardiac Care–Measurement of Nursing Practice. Quantitative data were summarized using frequency and proportions. Qualitative data were summarized using content analysis.


Twelve sites participated in the survey (44% response rate). Methadone was used as a weaning medication at 100% of participating sites, lorazepam at 83% of sites, and clonidine at 75% of sites. Seventy-five percent of sites reported using a clinical assessment tool to monitor withdrawal symptoms. Twenty-five percent of sites used a standardized clinical pathway when weaning opioid and sedative medications. Eighty-three percent of sites will consider discharging a patient to complete the medication wean at home.


Weaning practices varied across sites. While some similarities were observed among sites, substantial practice variation exists. The majority of sites used a clinical assessment tool to assess for withdrawal symptoms. Few sites reported using a standardized approach to weaning patients. Discharging patients to complete an opioid or sedative wean at home was common practice. Opportunities exist for the development of weaning practice guidelines.

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