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Published: Monday, 3/19/2012

Meth babies face higher risk for later problems

Study is 1st to look at long-term effects


CHICAGO — The first study to look at methamphetamine’s potential lasting effects on children whose mothers used it in pregnancy finds these children at higher risk than others for behavior problems.

The behavior differences — anxiety, depression, moodiness — were not huge, but the lead researcher, Linda LaGasse, called them “very worrisome.”

Methamphetamine is a stimulant like crack cocaine. Earlier research showed meth babies have similarities to so-called “crack babies” — smaller in size and prone to drowsiness and stress. Results in long-term studies conflict on whether children of cocaine-using mothers have lasting behavior problems.

Whether problems persist in young children of meth users is unknown. Ms. LaGasse, of Brown University’s Center of the Study of Children at Risk, said methamphetamine has stronger effects on the brain, so it may be more likely to cause lasting effects in children.

The study was published online Monday in Pediatrics.

Government data suggest more than 10 million Americans have used meth; fewer than 1 percent of pregnant women are users.

Joseph Frascella, head of a behavioral division at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the research is a ground-breaking study on effects of substance abuse in pregnancy. Because it is a first, the results should be viewed cautiously, he added.

The study of children from age 3 through 5 builds on research by Ms. LaGasse on the same age group — 330 youngsters tracked in the Midwest and West, areas where meth use is most common. Mothers were recruited after giving birth in Des Moines, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Tulsa. They were asked about prenatal meth use. Newborns’ stools were tested for evidence of the drug.

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