Developmental Disorders and Medical Complications Among Infants with Subclinical Intrauterine Opioid Exposures

Popul Health Manag. 2019 Feb;22(1):19-24. doi: 10.1089/pop.2018.0016. Epub 2018 Jun 12.


The objective was to compare diagnosis rates representing developmental outcomes and medical complications between infants with intrauterine opioid exposures who did not receive pharmacologic treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome at the time of birth and infants for whom no exposure to substances of abuse were detected. This retrospective, descriptive study included approximately 95% of Hamilton County, Ohio resident births in 2014 and 2015. Universal maternal drug test results, performed at the time of birth, were documented and linked to electronic health records representing pediatric primary and subspecialty follow-up care as well as urgent care, emergency care, and inpatient services provided by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center through 2017, when all children were at least 24 months old. Diagnosis rates were compared between drug exposure groups using chi-square tests. Among infants born at >34 weeks gestation and without other complex clinical conditions, infants with subclinical opioid exposures (N = 473) were more likely than infants with no drug exposures (N = 14,933) to be diagnosed with behavioral or emotional disorders (3.0% vs 1.1%, P = 0.0008), developmental delay (15.6% vs 7.6%, P < 0.0001), speech disorder (10.1% vs 6.5%, P = 0.001), or strabismus (3.4% vs 1.0%, P < 0.0001), and more likely to be exposed to the hepatitis C virus (6.8% vs 0.1%, P < 0.0001). Increased diagnosis rates among all opioid exposed infants, regardless of withdrawal severity, may warrant the additional allocation of resources for screening and follow-up. Awareness of the increased risk for certain developmental delays and medical conditions is critical to early intervention and treatment supporting improved outcomes.

Keywords: developmental disabilities; follow-up studies; infant/newborn; neonatal abstinence syndrome; opioids; strabismus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Developmental Disabilities* / complications
  • Developmental Disabilities* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome* / complications
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies