Opiates appear to better "ameliorate the withdrawal, facilitate feeding and potentially reduce the likelihood of seizures," according to two new systematic reviews done by David Osborn, a neonatologist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues.
The researchers also found that infants treated with opiates regained birth weight more quickly than those who only received supportive care.
According to their analysis, the use of opiates instead of sedatives or supportive care alone shortens the duration of supportive care by an average of four days. When compared to diazepam (Valium), opiates reduce the incidence of treatment failure.
However, infants treated with opiates had longer hospital stays than those treated with phenobarbitone, the sedative most often used in these cases. When sedatives only were compared, phenobarbitone was more likely than diazepam to reduce treatment failure.
The reviews appear in the July issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.
The reviews included 13 studies with a total of 890 infants of mothers who had used opiates with or without other drugs (including antidepressants, sleep aids and marijuana) during pregnancy. Researchers say two of the studies may have included identical patients.
Newborns suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) exhibit seizures, poor feeding, diarrhea and vomiting that lead to excessive weight loss and dehydr