Alfentanil While Pregnant: What You Need to Know

Is It Safe to Take Alfentanil While Pregnant?

Alfentanil is a powerful, synthetic opioid analgesic or pain medication. It’s an analog of fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Alfentanil is most commonly used as a surgical anesthetic because of its potency and because it starts working quickly. Alfentanil can cause respiratory depression and, even during medical procedures, the patient has to be monitored to ensure they don’t reach a point of danger. Alfentanil is classified as a Schedule II drug in the U.S., which highlights the addictive nature of this drug. Schedule II drugs are controlled substances that are only intended to be used in certain medical situations. Despite the restrictions, opioids like alfentanil can be and often are diverted from medical use and abused. The abuse of prescription opioids and opioids like heroin has grown exponentially in the past decade. Hundreds of people die from opioid overdoses every day. There is also an increasing number of pregnant women who report using opioids. They may be using opioids because they’re prescribed them or they are purchasing them on the streets. Regardless, opioids can cause complications and increase the risk of certain birth defects.

Is it safe to take alfentanil while pregnant? The answer is no. It’s not safe to take any opioid during pregnancy. However, if a woman is dependent upon opioids and she becomes pregnant, she should not just suddenly stop since this could result in further complications. If a woman is dependent upon opioids and she stops suddenly taking them during pregnancy, placental abruption may occur. This can cause serious bleeding and potential maternal and fetal death. Stopping suddenly or “cold turkey” can also cause a miscarriage. The best option is to talk with your healthcare provider if you’re using opioids like alfentanil and you become pregnant.

Alfentanil While Pregnant: What You Need to Know

Using alfentanil can be harmful to your baby. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that a number of birth defects are related to the use of opioid pain medications during pregnancy. Spina bifida is more likely to occur, which is a neural tube defect. Hydrocephaly, a buildup of fluid in the brain, may occur as can glaucoma. Babies born to mothers who use opioids may have gastroschisis, which is a defect of the wall of the abdomen, or a variety of congenital heart defects. Possible congenital heart defects include pulmonary valve stenosis and atrial septal defect. Other risks include stunted growth, preterm labor, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

There are indirect risks to a mother and her unborn baby when the use of opioids like alfentanil is involved. Women who are using opioids may be less likely to receive the prenatal care they need, and they may have nutritional deficits. There are increased risks for infections such as HIV, and there can be dangers related to drug-seeking such as violence or criminal issues.

NAS refers to a situation in which a baby is exposed to opioids like alfentanil while in the womb. As a result, the baby is born dependent upon opioids. The incidence of NAS increased almost five times between 2000 and 2012, which is believed to be linked to the increasing rates of opioids prescribed to pregnant women. NAS can cause symptoms that range from mild to severe. Possible NAS symptoms related to opioid use during pregnancy include:

  • Tremors, seizures and twitching
  • Tight muscles
  • Fussiness, irritability or extreme crying
  • Breathing problems
  • Problems sleeping
  • Excessive yawning
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Sneezing
  • Problems feeding or sucking
  • Poor weight gain

If a baby is believed to have symptoms of NAS, they will usually receive treatment in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU). Treatment may need to include opioid maintenance medications like methadone. The baby can then gradually be weaned off of the drugs. Treatment will also include a focus on hydration, nutrition and healthy weight gain. It can take just a few days for symptoms of NAS to subside, or much longer.

Sometimes when women are taking alfentanil or another opioid and they become pregnant, they’re afraid to tell their healthcare providers. They may be worried about stigma, or the risk of criminal consequences. Even though it may be difficult, the best thing to do is to be open and honest you’re your healthcare provider about your use of opioids. There are options available. For some women, their healthcare provider may be able to work with them to gradually and safely help them stop using opioids. Addiction treatment may be an option, as well as a medically-supervised detox. Medication-assisted treatment with the use of drugs like methadone or buprenorphine may be an option as well.

To learn more about addiction treatment and recovery, during pregnancy or otherwise, reach out to our expert, compassionate team at The Recovery Village.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.