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HM16 Session Analysis: Nonpharmacological Treatment Approach Better for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome


 

Presenter: Matthew Grossman, MD, FAAP

Summary: Treating Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) traditionally has followed a standardized approach using the Finnegan Scoring System in which if there were three consecutive scores > 8 or two scores > 12, medications would be started. Common medications included tincture of opium or morphine. Medication doses would be adjusted or weaned, typically every other day, by Finnegan scoring.

A better approach is indicated with the 2012 AAP guidelines that indicate the first-line approach to NAS should be nonpharmacological. The approach should be that used for any crying baby, i.e., holding, swaddling, on-demand feeding, and parents rooming in with the infant. NAS infants without significant other medical problems are best cared for in a regular nursery or hospital unit rather than a NICU. With these simple interventions, some NAS infants may not need medications, and if they do, may be weaned sooner.

Additionally, medication management can be more successful if using combinations of a narcotic plus an additional agent such as clonidine or phenobarbital. Medications may be safely weaned more quickly than every other day. Using such a combined approach, the Yale New Haven Hospital has significantly reduced NAS infant LOS, total narcotic dose, and cost while increasing rates of breast feeding.

Key Takeaways

  1. Treat NAS first by providing high quality nursing care with infants out of an ICU, swaddled, fed and held when first exhibiting withdrawal symptoms.
  2. Use combination narcotic and other medication if pharmacologic treatment is needed.
  3. Wean aggressively by symptoms. TH

Dr. Pressel is a pediatric hospitalist and inpatient medical director at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and a member of Team Hospitalist.

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