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Current management of neonatal abstinence syndrome: a survey of practice in the UK and Ireland


Objective To study the current management practices of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) throughout the UK and Ireland and identify changes in practice from the most recent survey in 2008.

Design Postal questionnaire to a consultant paediatrician or neonatologist in all 215 neonatal units in the UK and Ireland in January 2020.

Results Response rate was 62%. An objective scoring tool was used in 97% of units and the Finnegan score was favoured by 70%. Morphine sulfate use as first line for the treatment of opiate withdrawal was almost universal and 70% used a dose of 40 µg/kg every 4 hours (240 µg/kg/day). Phenobarbitone administration as a second-line agent for opiate withdrawal increased to 61% of units with significant reductions in chloral hydrate and chlorpromazine use compared with the previous survey. Morphine sulfate and phenobarbitone remain the preferred first-line and second-line agents, respectively, for polysubstance withdrawal. There was a significant increase in chlorpromazine use as first line for polydrug withdrawal (1.5–14.2%). The practice of units discharging infants’ home on medication increased to 46% from 29%. All units now permit breastfeeding in mothers taking methadone, compared with 81% previously.

Conclusion and relevance Compared with the previous survey, improvements in evidence-based practices were noted, highlighting the benefits of this type of research. Nonetheless, significant variation still exists in some aspects of the management of NAS. Post-discharge follow-up varies widely, with particular deficits in ophthalmology follow-up.

  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Neonatology
  • Pharmacology
  • Social work

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information. N/A.

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