According to the new study, children whose mothers used opioids during pregnancy continued to show cognitive and motor effects of the medication during adolescence.
The victims of the opioid epidemic are not only the people who develop addictions, but also their families and even the new study suggests generations after them.
Approximately every 15 minutes a baby is born with uptake of opioids and the use of opioids in pregnant women has increased fivefold in the US.
And according to new research from the Royal Hospital for Women in Australia, children who were exposed to opioids in the womb may have lower IQs and run a threefold higher risk of severe intellectual disability.
These brain effects of the drugs will follow them throughout their lives, probably limiting their financial and social success considerably.
New research suggests that the effects of opioid exposure in the womb are long-lasting and devastating. Through primary school, children whose mothers took the drugs while wearing them face a threefold higher risk of intellectual disability, the new study suggests
As with other major epidemics, the effects of the opioid epidemic in the US are systemic.
In 2017 alone, opioid overdoses killed the lives of more than 70,000 Americans.
Scientists blame the opioid epidemic for reducing life expectancy in the United States for the past three years in a row – the first time in 25 years.
And we are only now beginning to understand the scope of its impact on the children of the epidemic.
We know that the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) increased by a factor of five in just 10 years, and in 2014 they had 32,000 babies born with the disease.
Children born with NAS often have a lower birth weight, are more prone to poorly developed lungs and have difficulty breathing and may have fewer than average heads.
We are still learning the long-term effects of NAS, although recent research suggests that they may not perform as well in school.
But even if their exposure does not lead to NAS, the sensitive, developing brain and bodies of fetuses are likely to be sensitive to even light or moderate opioid use by their mothers.
The new study estimates that at least one in five pregnant women in rich countries uses some form of opioid while carrying a child.
About 75 to 90 percent of these babies are born with NAS, but more can happen.
With immediate, good care, babies with NAS can recover and be brought home relatively soon after birth, to live what looks like normal, normal childhood.
The researchers at the Royal Hospital for Women, however, suspected that the effects of opioid exposure would follow these children later – a subject that has not received much attention.
Thus, they collected data from previous studies to assess 1,455 children who were exposed to opioids in the womb plus 2,982 whose mothers did not use opioids during pregnancy.
The data includes cognitive scoring for children of very different ages, including toddlers from 11 months to 18 years old.
What they found was daunting.
Although clear differences regarding opioid exposure began to diverge at the age of seven, the gap between exposed and unexposed children initially increased from six months through primary school.
In total, nearly three times more children exposed to opioids in the womb had IQs under the normal range.
Among children whose mothers were taking the powerful drugs, 6.3 percent lagged behind intellectual scores, while only 2.3 percent of the children's general population were published in the JAMA Network Open, according to the study.
This translates into a threefold higher risk of intellectual disability.
The distribution of IQ scores, motor functions and cognitive skills seemed to be the same by the time children were older, but it still caused serious concern for Australian researchers.
& # 39; This difference is significant for children with POE, because they are already vulnerable given their poor living conditions and increased risk of neglect and abuse, & # 39 ;, wrote the study authors.
Risks to intellectual disability can only reinforce their tendency to have behavioral and attention deficits, all of which contribute to poorer academic, social and lifestyle outcomes, ”she added.
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