Buprenorphine is used in the opioid maintenance treatment for opioid dependent patients, including pregnant women. Despite the wide use, limited data exists on buprenorphine pharmacokinetics and fetal exposure during pregnancy. The aim of our study was to determine the buprenorphine pharmacokinetics during transdermal patch dosing to pregnant sheep and, to determine the extent of transplacental transfer of buprenorphine to the fetus.
Pregnant sheep in late gestation (n=50) received 20, 25 or 40 µg/h of buprenorphine as a 7-day extended-release transdermal patch. Plasma samples were collected from the ewe and the fetus on days 1 – 6, and buprenorphine and norbuprenorphine concentrations were determined. During the exposure period the sheep had a surgical procedure on the second day, a recovery phase, and an experimental procedure on the sixth day. In the experiment, hypoxia was induced under anesthesia for 18 sheep to investigate if decreased fetal pH would cause ion-trapping of buprenorphine in the fetus. The fetal/maternal plasma concentration ratio was determined on the second and on the sixth exposure day at baseline and during hypoxia. Maternal pharmacokinetics were modelled with a population pharmacokinetic method using the data from this study and our previous intravenous administration study.
The transdermal patch provided an extended release of buprenorphine throughout the exposure period, but the release rate declined approximately 20 h after patch placement. The median fetal/maternal plasma concentration ratio was 13 – 27 % throughout the exposure period at baseline. A ratio over 100 % was observed for four sheep on the sixth exposure day (102 – 269 %). A minor increase was seen in the median fetal/maternal-ratios during maternal hypoxia. Norbuprenorphine was undetected in all plasma samples.
The low transplacental passage of less than one fourth of the ewe’s exposure supports buprenorphine as an alternative to methadone in opioid maintenance therapy during pregnancy.

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