Substance, structure and stigma: Parents in the UK accounting for opioid substitution therapy during the antenatal and postnatal periods

Amy Chandler, Anne Whittaker, Sarah Cunningham-Burley, Nigel Williams, Kelly McGorm, Gillian Mathews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review



Parenting and pregnancy in the context of drug use is a contentious topic, high on the policy agenda. Providing effective support to parents who are opioid dependent, through early intervention, access to drug treatment and parenting skills training, is a priority. However, little is known about opioid dependent parents’ experiences and understanding of parenting support during the antenatal and postnatal periods. This paper focuses on the position and impact of opioid substitution therapy (OST) in the accounts of parents who were expecting, or who had recently had, a baby in the UK.

Semi-structured qualitative interviews were held with a purposive sample of 19 opioid dependent service users (14 female, 5 male). Longitudinal data was collected across the antenatal and postnatal (up to 1 year) periods, with participants interviewed up to three times. Forty-five interviews were analysed thematically, using a constant comparison method, underpinned by a sociologically informed narrative approach.

Participants’ accounts of drug treatment were clearly oriented towards demonstrating that they were doing ‘the best thing’ for their baby. For some, OST was framed as a route to what was seen as a ‘normal’ family life; for others, OST was a barrier to such normality. Challenges related to: the physiological effects of opioid dependence; structural constraints associated with treatment regimes; and the impact of negative societal views about drug-using parents.

Parents’ accounts of OST can be seen as a response to socio-cultural ideals of a ‘good’, drug-free parent. Reflecting the liminal position parents engaged in OST found themselves in, their narratives entailed reconciling their status as a ‘drug-using parent’ with a view of an ‘ideal parent’ who was abstinent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e35–e42
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Methadone maintenance treatment; Opioid substitution therapy; Parenting; Pregnancy


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