Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Prenatal Drug Exposure and Development

Recognition that the use of opiates during pregnancy has potentially harmful effects to the foetus extends back to antiquity; Hippocrates noted that ‘uterine suffocation’occurred in conjunction with maternal opium use (Zagon & McLaughlin, 1984). More recently, arising from public concern about foetal alcohol syndrome in the 1970s and the ‘crack baby epidemic’of the 1980s, a considerable body of research has been devoted to understanding the impact of prenatal drug exposure on the cognitive, social and emotional development of children (de Cubas & Field, 1993; Householder, Hatcher, Burns,& Chasnoff, 1982; Griffith, Azuma,& Chasnoff, 1994).

For the most part, this research has explored the possible teratogenic (birth-defect forming) effects of prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol with maternal and environmental variables being treated as confounding factors,rather than as a primary focus for investigation and understanding. Understanding the findings in research on infants/children exposed to drugs is complicated because of the need to disentangle the prenatal, perinatal, and environmental factors contributing to developmental outcomes.

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