The misuse of an addiction to opioid medications has become the most rapidly increasing drug problem in the US, which has consequences for pregnant mothers and their babies. The prevalence of maternal opioid drug use at the time of delivery in California is approximately one percent. The neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a constellation of narcotic drug withdrawal symptoms that develops in 42 to 94 percent of infants born to narcotic dependent mothers. There are no preventative treatments for this severe syndrome, which can result in a prolonged hospitalization and treatment in a neonatal intensive care unit. Based upon a genetic discovery, we demonstrated that administration of a 5-HT3 antagonist (ondansetron) prevented the symptoms of narcotic drug withdrawal in experimental studies in mice and in humans. From this, we hypothesize that ondansetron administration to pregnant narcotic-using mothers just prior to delivery, followed by a 3-day period of ondansetron administration to the neonate, could reduce the incidence or severity of NAS symptoms. Ondansetron is a broadly utilized drug with a substantial safety record in pregnant women, but we do not know what effect pregnancy may have on ondansetron pharmacokinetics and it is hard to predict ondansetron pharmacokinetics at birth. Therefore, we will first perform a detailed characterization of ondansetron pharmacokinetics in pregnant mothers and in neonates. Besides providing important information about differences in drug metabolism during pregnancy and in neonates, these results will ensure that appropriate ondansetron doses are selected for treatment of the mothers and neonates in the subsequent efficacy study. In the second part of this study, we will conduct a multi-center, randomized, double blind, and placebo-controlled trial to determine whether ondansetron treatment will reduce the incidence (percentage of infants requiring narcotic drug treatment) or severity (total amount of narcotic drug required, length of hospitalization, symptom severity scores) of NAS in babies born to narcotic-using mothers. This project tests a very novel approach for preventing an important pregnancy-related complication of narcotic drug abuse. If a brief period of ondansetron administration to the mothers that use narcotic drugs, and to their babies, can prevent or ameliorate the development of narcotic drug withdrawal symptoms in neonates, this would reduce human suffering and the growing societal cost of opiate abuse.
This project tests a very novel approach for preventing an important pregnancy-related complication of narcotic drug abuse. After characterizing the ondansetron metabolism in pregnant women and neonates, we will determine if prenatal administration of ondansetron to pregnant mothers that use narcotic drugs followed by a 3-day period of ondansetron administration to the neonate, can prevent or reduce the development of narcotic drug withdrawal symptoms in neonates. If so, this would reduce human suffering and the growing societal cost of opiate abuse.
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