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Home > Publications > NIDA Notes > Vol. 19, No. 3 > Research News

Conference Provides Overview of Consequences of Prenatal Drug Exposure
Research News
Vol. 19, No. 3 (September 2004)

By Patrick Zickler, NIDA NOTES Staff Writer

Photograph of a pregnant woman

On March 23 and 24, NIDA-supported investigators met in Bethesda, Maryland, to discuss long-term consequences of prenatal exposure to drugs. The conference, "Long Term Follow-up of Prenatal Drug Exposure: Advances, Challenges, and Opportunities," was cosponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Health's Office of Research on Women's Health. The meeting brought together more than 100 researchers involved in studying the impact of prenatal exposure to drugs on children. Conference participants described recent findings and discussed research techniques and technology that can make the most effective use of the research cohorts recruited in the past two decades.

"NIDA has long recognized the importance of studies that can follow the development of children from before birth through adolescence and early adulthood," said Dr. Vincent Smeriglio of NIDA's Division of Clinical Neuroscience, Development, and Behavioral Treatment. "For example, NIDA supports the Ottawa Prenatal Prospective Study, which began in 1978 and has examined the impact of prenatal tobacco and marijuana use on offspring who are now in their early twenties," continued Dr. Smeriglio. "Other research projects, such as those designed to examine the effects of MDMA [Ecstasy] and methamphetamine over similarly long developmental periods, are just getting under way." In all, NIDA's prenatal drug research involves 24 studies and thousands of prenatally exposed offspring (see "Summary of Current Prenatal Studies").

Summary of Current Prenatal Studies
Studies Total Sample
(Range in Study Size)
Current Age Range
14 studies
1 month to 16 years
5 studies
Newborn to 24 years
1 study
100 14 years
(at final evaluation)
2 studies
18 to 24 years
1 study
508 Newborn to 12 months
MDMA (Ecstasy)
1 study
150 Newborn to 24 months

The largest longitudinal study of prenatal drug exposures is the Maternal Lifestyle Study (MLS), an interagency collaboration cosupported by NICHD. "This study involves more than 1,300 children who now are entering adolescence," observed NICHD Director Dr. Duane Alexander. "MLS has allowed us to look at the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure as well as the longer term effects of a postnatal environment involving drug abuse. The study has made significant contributions to the field of developmental science, and following these children even longer will help us assess more fully the impact of drugs on development."

"To move forward in every aspect of prevention and treatment, we must build on our knowledge of what impact drugs have on development and on vulnerability," said NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow. "That is why the focus of the research we're discussing at these meetings is so important. It is crucial to study the effects of drugs at the earliest stages of brain development, while the fetus is still in the womb."


Volume 19, Number 3 (September 2004)

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