Adverse neurodevelopmental outcome of infants exposed to opiate in-utero

Early Hum Dev. 2008 Jan;84(1):29-35. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2007.01.013. Epub 2007 Aug 28.


In-utero drug exposure is associated with increased risks of perinatal morbidity and mortality, however longer term neurodevelopmental outcome of survivors is poorly described.

Aims: The aims of this paper are: (1) to review the published literature which examines neurodevelopmental outcome in infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and (2) to report developmental follow-up data from a case-control study of babies exposed to opiate in-utero.

Methods: This study was conducted at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, NSW, through the multidisciplinary NAS service. Literature was reviewed after searching MEDLINE for relevant studies. Our own case-control study was conducted to examine neurodevelopmental outcome. A number of standardized neuropsychological tools were employed to assess these infants.

Results: Results from previously published studies on outcome of infants with NAS were not reassuring as to reported 'normal development'. In our own case-control study, opiate-exposed infants were significantly more likely to have neurodevelopmental impairment compared to healthy control infants, when assessed at 18 months and 3 years of age.

Conclusions: Infants exposed to opiates in-utero are at increased risk of neurodevelopmental problems throughout early childhood.

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developmental Disabilities / chemically induced*
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Developmental Disabilities / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / etiology*
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / psychology
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Nervous System Diseases / psychology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*