Morphine versus methadone for neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome: a randomized controlled pilot study

Author Department


Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Background: Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS) is a significant public health issue and while millions of neonates are affected each year, an optimal pharmacologic weaning protocol has yet to be demonstrated. In this study, we compare hospital length of stay (LOS) and length of treatment (LOT) for treatment of neonatal opioid withdrawal (NOWS) with morphine versus methadone.

Methods: This was a single-site, open-label, randomized controlled pilot study conducted from October 2016-September 2018. Infants were eligible if their primary in-utero drug exposure was heroin, oral opioids, or methadone and they were born at greater than or equal to 34 weeks gestation. Infants were excluded for serious medical comorbidities and primary in-utero exposure to buprenorphine.

Results: Sixty-one infants were enrolled; 30 were randomized to methadone treatment, and 31 to morphine treatment. Overall 46% of infants required treatment for NOWS. LOS and LOT for infants treated with morphine was 17.9 days and 14.7 days respectively, compared to 16.1 days and 12.8 days for babies treated with methadone (p = 0.5, p = 0.54). Infants treated with morphine received lower total morphine equivalents than those treated with methadone (9.7 vs. 33, p < 0.01). Three treated infants in the methadone group required transfer to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, versus no infants in the morphine group.

Conclusions: Infants treated with morphine versus methadone had no significant differences in LOS or LOT in this pilot study. Infants treated with methadone received up to 3 times the opioid based on morphine equivalents as infants treated with morphine and had more transfers to the NICU for over sedation.

Clinical trial registration: Morphine Versus Methadone for Opiate Exposed Infants With Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome NCT02851303 , initiated 01/08/2016.

Keywords: Methadone; Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome; Perinatal substance use disorders.