Prior studies are mixed regarding whether infants diagnosed with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome have a higher risk of mortality than other infants. However, these studies have not accounted for whether mothers of infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome received medication for opioid use disorder in pregnancy.
Linked data from 2016‒2018 North Carolina birth certificates, maternal and infant Medicaid claims, and infant death certificates were analyzed in summer 2021 to compare mortality and causes of mortality before age 1 year among infants diagnosed with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome whose mothers did and did not have claims for medication for opioid use disorder in pregnancy (N=4,480).
Compared with mothers with medication for opioid use disorder claims in pregnancy (45.5%), mothers without medication for opioid use disorder claims (55.5%) were younger, more likely to be Black non-Hispanic, less likely to have paternity established, and more likely to have no prenatal care. The proportion (1.3%, n=31 vs 1.0%, n=21) and rate (3.5 vs 2.9 deaths per 100,000 infant days) of mortality was higher among infants of mothers without medication for opioid use disorder claims than infants of mothers with medication for opioid use disorder claims. Sudden unexpected infant death syndrome was the primary cause of death for infants of mothers with (90.5%) and without (58.1%) medication for opioid use disorder claims.
Results highlight the importance of assessing for potential differences in outcomes according to whether infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome were exposed to medication for opioid use disorder. Efforts to ensure equitable access to medication for opioid use disorder and other support services in pregnancy are needed to promote healthy maternal and infant outcomes.

Copyright © 2022 American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.