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November 2016Vol. 17, No. 8Treating Pregnant Women With Opioid Use Disorders

Noting the sharp increase in the use of opioids across the country, even among pregnant women, a new guide highlights the benefits of a coordinated, multisystem approach to providing services to address this emerging epidemic within this vulnerable population. The guide outlines a variety of causes of opioid misuse and dependence, as well as its effects: an increase in child welfare caseloads created by the number of infants and young children entering foster care, in addition to hospital reports of infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). NAS is defined as the pattern of effects associated with opioid withdrawal in newborns.

The guide presents specific information on the treatment of pregnant women with opioid use disorders, approaches implemented by organizations across multiple disciplines, a framework to organize these approaches in communities, and a practice guide for community planning.

Five opportunities for intervention are outlined in the framework:

  • Prepregnancy: Promoting awareness of the effects of prenatal substance use on infants
  • Prenatal: Screening pregnant women for substance use as part of routine prenatal care
  • Birth: Testing newborns for prenatal substance exposure at the time of delivery
  • Neonatal: Conducting developmental assessments of newborns and ensuring access to services
  • Throughout childhood and adolescence: Providing coordinated services for affected children and families

The authors note that a collaborative approach, while showing promising results where implemented, can be challenging to establish for reasons such as competing priorities, unmet training needs, use of different terminologies, limits on time and resources, information gaps, and more. To counter some of these challenges, the guide provides a list of questions to ask when establishing joint planning, as well as a description of a collaborative team, including a steering committee, a core team, and work groups.

The guide was developed by the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

A Collaborative Approach to the Treatment of Pregnant Women With Opioid Use Disorders is available at  


Related Item

The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare announced the 2017 Policy Academy: Improving Outcomes for Pregnant and Postpartum Women With Opioid Use Disorders, and Their Infants and Families, which will be held February 7–8, 2017, in Baltimore, MD. Applications for participation in the Policy Academy are due Friday, November 4, 2016, at 5:00 p.m., PDT. For questions about this opportunity or the application process, please contact Amanda Kellerman at or 714.505.3525.