Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure and Childhood Behavior Problems at 3 and 5 Years of Age

From Pediatrics:

OBJECTIVE: We evaluated behavior problems in children who were prenatally exposed to methamphetamine (MA) at ages 3 and 5 years.

METHODS: The Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle study, a prospective, longitudinal study of prenatal MA exposure and child outcome, enrolled subjects postpartum in Los Angeles, California; Honolulu, Hawaii; Des Moines, Iowa; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Prenatal exposure was determined by maternal self-report and/or meconium results. Exposed and comparison groups were matched on race, birth weight, public health insurance, and education. Mothers in the comparison group denied use and had a negative meconium screen for amphetamines. Prenatal exposures to tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana occurred in both groups. At ages 3 and 5 years, 330 children (166 exposed and 164 comparison) were assessed for behavior problems by using the caregiver report on the Child Behavior Checklist. General linear mixed models were used to determine the effects of prenatal MA exposure, including heavy exposure (≥3 days per week), age, and the interaction of exposure and age on behavior problems with adjustment for other drugs of abuse and environmental risk factors.

RESULTS: MA exposure was associated with increased emotional reactivity and anxious/depressed problems at both ages and externalizing and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems by age 5 years. Heavy exposure was related to attention problems and withdrawn behavior at both ages. There were no effects of MA on the internalizing or total behavior problems scales.

CONCLUSIONS: This first report of behavior problems in patients as young as 3 years associated with MA exposure identifies an important public health problem. Continued follow-up can inform the development of preventive intervention programs.

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