Many infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS) from prenatal exposure to opioids require transfer to a pediatric inpatient unit for medication weaning. The purpose of this study is to assess the difference in the duration of medication weaning between infants transferred by day of life (DOL) 14 versus later (DOL 15 and after) to a tertiary care setting for pharmacological and nonpharmacological management of NOWS.
This single-site retrospective cohort study uses medical chart data from infants with NOWS transferred to specialized care between May 2016 and June 2021 (n = 87). The primary outcome is length of medication weaning, calculated as the number of days between transfer from the NICU to a tertiary care setting and the cessation of pharmacotherapy.
The majority of the infants in this sample are transferred from acute to tertiary care after DOL 15 (62% versus 38% by DOL 14). The predicted number of days to wean is 14.2 among those infants transferred by DOL 14, whereas the duration of weaning is 6.6 days longer among the later transfer group (20.8 days), adjusting for key covariates. The duration of weaning is also prolonged among infants with greater NOWS symptom severity and with prenatal exposure to psychotropic medications.
Delayed treatment prolongs NOWS symptoms and increases the burden on the health care system. Earlier referral from NICUs to pediatric inpatient units with environmental supports could reduce prolonged medication exposure and length of hospitalization for infants diagnosed with NOWS.