- Martin PR, Finlayson AJ. Opioid use disorder during pregnancy in Tennessee: expediency vs. science. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse. 41(5). 367-70. PMID: 26186388 [PubMed].
Methadone and buprenorphine are highly effective and commonly prescribed for the treatment of opioid use disorder. Both medications are also efficacious for the treatment of pregnant women with this disorder. In one third of states, however, Medicaid reimbursement will cover the cost of buprenorphine, but not methadone, to treat opioid use disorder in pregnant women. This commentary will explore the clinical and policy rational and consequences of this policy, with the opinion that this approach is guided by political expediency rather than sound clinical research. The commentary will focus on the pharmacological management of prescription opioid dependence during pregnancy in Tennessee, one of the states that restrict Medicaid coverage of pregnant women to buprenorphine. Tennessee is also relevant in that this state ranks second nationally in the rate of prescriptions written for opioid pain relievers; in contrast to injection opioid use in urban populations, opioid addiction in rural and southeastern regions of the US is characterized by use of non-injection prescription opioids. Until recently, most research-based recommendations for the management of opioid use disorder during pregnancy have derived from studies of women using opioids intravenously. The lack of research in non-injection opioid-using pregnant women may partially explain why policy rather than scientific evidence guides Medicaid reimbursement. It is hoped that future research in pregnant women addicted to prescription opioids will clarify which opioid addicted pregnant women have better outcomes with buprenorphine or methadone treatment and these findings, in turn, will inform Medicaid reimbursement.