Taking Sufentanil While Pregnant: What You Need to Know

Sufentanil is an extremely powerful opioid. It’s available in brand name versions like Sufenta. This opioid analgesic is intended only to be used in hospital settings due to its potency. It’s injected intravenously, and it’s estimated to be 500 times more potent than morphine. Sufentanil is estimated to be around 5 to 10 times more potent than fentanyl. Like fentanyl, sufentanil is a synthetic opioid. Along with being administered intravenously, sufentanil is sometimes used in epidurals, and it may be in some transdermal patch medications. Sufentanil is a Schedule II controlled substance in the U.S. Using or possessing sufentanil without a prescription is a crime.

Sufentanil is most often used as part of anesthesia because of its potency. It can be used in patients who have used opioids for a long time or for those who have a heavy opioid tolerance and dependence as well. As with other opioids, sufentanil affects the central nervous system and causes respiratory depression. Without proper medical supervision, that respiratory depression can be fatal. Sufentanil is so powerful that it’s the only opioid strong enough to block the effects of buprenorphine -a drug that normally blocks the effects of opioids.

When sufentanil is administered, it should only be under the supervision of a medical professional who is an expert in airway management. Even in surgical and medical settings, it’s possible for sufentanil to cause respiratory arrest if it’s given too quickly or if too much is administered. Other side effects of sufentanil use can include nausea and vomiting, and changes in the heart rate and blood pressure. While sufentanil is a controlled substance and should only be used in hospital settings, it is sometimes diverted from medical use. When opioids like sufentanil are diverted from medical use, they’re often sold on the black market. There are also illicit manufacturers who may create illegal versions sufentanil and sell it on the black market as well. These scenarios are part of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Sufentanil is highly deadly.

Is sufentanil safe to take while pregnant? There are very few circumstances in which sufentanil would be legally administered to a pregnant woman in a medical situation. Sufentanil is a category C drug according to a classification system set by the FDA. Category C drugs have demonstrated links to fetal harm in animal studies; however, category C drugs don’t typically have enough human research to make a determination as to their safety or lack thereof. With a category C drug, a doctor will usually weigh the possible benefits it could bring for the pregnant woman versus possible risks to her and her unborn baby. Again, since the uses of sufentanil are so limited, there’s probably not very many circumstances in which a pregnant woman would be given the drug.

Taking Sufentanil While Pregnant: What You Need to Know

While sufentanil is very unlikely to be given to a pregnant woman in a medical setting, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be used. The opioid epidemic affects millions of people, and there is a potential that a pregnant woman could recreationally abuse a drug like sufentanil or other opioids. If a woman has been taking opioids and becomes pregnant, she may wonder what the risks are to her baby. While there isn’t much research on sufentanil specifically, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does warn that the use of opioids can increase the chances of certain birth defects. One defect that may be linked to opioid use during pregnancy is spina bifida. Spina bifida is a serious neural tube defect, often requiring surgery. Other defects that may be more likely with opioid exposure include congenital heart defects and hydrocephaly, which is when fluid builds up in the brain of the baby. Using sufentanil or other opioids significantly increases the risk of birth defects in the newborn baby.

Babies who were exposed to sufentanil in the womb may be born addicted to the drug. After delivery, the baby may have neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is essentially withdrawal from opioids. Symptoms of NAS in a newborn can include excessive crying, jitteriness, and a high-pitched cry. A baby with NAS may have difficulties feeding and gaining adequate weight, as well as sleeping. Treatment in the NICU is usually required for babies with NAS. In some cases, the baby might be given medication like methadone.

If you’re abusing sufentanil recreationally and become pregnant, there are options available to you. You should speak with your healthcare provider about how to safely stop using sufentanil. Withdrawal from sufentanil without medical assistance could cause complications for the baby otherwise. During a medical detox, a pregnant woman can gradually taper off sufentanil and receive around-the-clock medical care for herself and her unborn baby. A woman may also benefit from addiction treatment following detox so that she can learn how to live without opioids for the benefit of herself and her child.

If you’d like to learn about addiction treatment and recovery, during pregnancy or otherwise, reach out to 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.