• Article

Prenatal methadone exposure, meconium biomarker concentrations and neonatal abstinence syndrome

Aims Methadone is standard pharmacotherapy for opioid-dependent pregnant women, yet the relationship between maternal methadone dose and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) severity is still unclear. This research evaluated whether quantification of fetal methadone and drug exposure via meconium would reflect maternal dose and predict neonatal outcomes.

Design Prospective clinical study.

Setting An urban drug treatment facility treating pregnant and post-partum women and their children.

Participants Forty-nine opioid-dependent pregnant women received 30–110 mg methadone daily.

Measurements Maternal methadone dose, infant birth parameters and NAS assessments were extracted from medical records. Thrice-weekly urine specimens were screened for opioids and cocaine. Newborn meconium specimens were quantified for methadone, opioid, cocaine and tobacco biomarkers.

Findings There was no relationship between meconium methadone concentrations, presence of opioids, cocaine and/or tobacco in meconium, maternal methadone dose or NAS severity. Opioid and cocaine were also found in 36.7 and 38.8 of meconium specimens, respectively, and were associated with positive urine specimens in the third trimester. The presence of opioids other than methadone in meconium correlated with increased rates of preterm birth, longer infant hospital stays and decreased maternal time in drug treatment.

Conclusions Methadone and its metabolite 2-ethylidene-1,5-dimethyl-3,3-diphenylpyrrolidine (EDDP) concentrations in meconium did not predict infant birth parameters or NAS severity. Prospective urine testing defined meconium drug detection windows for opiates and cocaine as 3 months, rather than the currently accepted 6 months. The presence of opioids in meconium could be used as a biomarker for infants at elevated risk in the newborn period.


Gray, TR., Choo, RE., Concheiro, M., Williams, E., Elko, A., Jansson, LM., ... Huestis, MA. (2010). Prenatal methadone exposure, meconium biomarker concentrations and neonatal abstinence syndrome. Addiction, 105(12), 2151-2159. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03097.x