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Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure Linked to Cognitive Problems

methamphetamineThe National Institutes of Health funded the only long-term study of prenatal methamphetamine exposure and child outcome.[1] Researchers found that fetuses exposed to the drug before birth were at an increased risk of cognitive problems at age 7.5.1 Therefore, there is a need for early interventions to improve academic outcomes and reduce negative behaviors.1

Researchers studied 151 children who were exposed to methamphetamine while in the womb, as well as 147 children who were not.1 Results showed that children with prenatal methamphetamine exposure were 2.8 times more likely to have cognitive problems when compared to those who were not exposed to the drug.1

“These problems include learning slower than their classmates, having difficulty organizing their work and completing tasks, and struggling to stay focused on their work,” said Lynne M. Smith, MD, lead researcher at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed). “All of these difficulties can lead to educational deficits for these children and potentially negative behaviors as they find they cannot keep up with their classmates.”1

The use of methamphetamine among women of reproductive age is a continuing concern, as five percent of pregnant women, ages 15 to 44, report current illicit drug use.1 Using methamphetamine during pregnancy can restrict nutrients and oxygen to the developing fetus.1 The drug also crosses the placenta and enters the fetus’ bloodstream.1

Previous research in Sweden found that babies born to mothers who used methamphetamine during pregnancy had lower IQ scores, decreased school performance, and increased aggressive behavior.1 However, that study did not compare them to children who had no prenatal methamphetamine exposure.1 Therefore, researchers at LA BioMed, along with researchers in Iowa, Oklahoma, and Hawaii—where methamphetamine usage is prevalent—tracked children who were not exposed to the drug to compare it with children who have been.1 This is part of the Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle (IDEAL) Study—the only longitudinal study of prenatal methamphetamine exposure and child outcome.1

“By identifying deficits early in the child’s life, we can intervene sooner and help them overcome these deficits to help them have greater success in school and life,” said Smith. “Through the IDEAL Study, we are able to track these children and better understand the long-term effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure.”1



[1] Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed). (2014, March 18). Children exposed to methamphetamine before birth have increased cognitive problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140318113733.htm

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