Experts Challenge Inaccurate Reports about Pregnant Women & Rx Opiate Use

We are pleased to let you know that today more than 40 leading United States and international medical and psychological researchers and experts released a letter to media outlets and policy makers countering misleading and alarmist reporting about pregnant women and prescription opiate use. This kind of reporting about pregnant women and drug use has encouraged numerous counterproductive policies and laws that deprive pregnant women of their fundamental rights and undermine maternal, fetal, and child health.

Pregnancy Justice Board Member and international expert on methadone treatment, Dr. Robert Newman, spearheaded this effort. You can read the full letter below. Please share this important information with your friends, colleagues, organizations, and elected representatives.


Science and Medical Leaders Urge Media
to End Inaccurate Reporting on Prescription Opiate Use by Pregnant Women

Letter Sent to CNN, NBC, ABC, USA Today,
Wall Street Journal and Others

New York, March 13, 2013 - More than 40 leading United States and international medical and psychological researchers and experts released a letter to media outlets and policy makers today urging evidence-based coverage on the issue of prescription opiate use by pregnant women.

An increasing number of news articles have focused on the use and misuse of prescription opiates by pregnant women. Opiates are a class of drugs that have a critical role in controlling acute and chronic pain. They also include such medications as methadone and buprenorphine used as "maintenance" treatment to eliminate or minimize symptoms of withdrawal in people who have become addicted to prescription opiates or to opiates obtained illegally. If a pregnant woman uses opiates or receives maintenance treatment during pregnancy her newborn may experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS, a possible side effect of prenatal exposure to opiates and medications used in the treatment of opiates, can be readily treated and has never been shown to lead to any long-term adverse effects.

Reporting about this issue that is not based on science encourages policies that undermine maternal, fetal, and child health. The doctors and researchers who collaborated in the release of this consensus statement urge that the media stop inaccurate and alarmist reporting on the subject. They joined together to challenge "reporting that, very literally, threatens the lives, health, and safety of children."

They were motivated by media coverage that:

  • Largely ignores almost 50 years of research showing the value of methadone and more recently buprenorphine treatment and instead stimatizes treatment known to be beneficial to pregnant women, their children and their communities;
  • Ignores well-established, cost effective protocols that treat and resolve neonatal abstinence syndrome when it occurs;
  • Disregards lack of training of medical personnel in addiction, addiction treatment and protocols for the effective management of newborns who experience NAS;
  • Focuses blame on pregnant women and counterproductively portrays them as perpetrators of harm to their offspring;
  • Consistently uses medically inaccurate terms that brand newborns as "addicted" or as victims;
  • Suggests long-term harms to children that have not been shown to be associated with opiate intake - prescribed or unprescribed - during pregnancy.

This letter follows a recent U.N. Human Rights Council Report on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment harshly criticizing policies that deny drug-users long-term maintenance treatment with methadone or buprenorphine. The report notes that "A particular form of ill-treatment and possibly torture of drug users is the denial of opiate substitution treatment."

The full text of this letter is available here.

For more information about the Open Letter, or for interview requests please contact:
Dr. Robert Newman,
Director, The Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute of Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, NY
Phone: 212-523-8390