Prenatal Drug Exposure
by Berniece Reeves Brown
The drug epidemic in this country has a devastating effect on families, and particularly on the children who have been the silent victims of prenatal exposure to drugs. The number of children born each year exposed to drugs including alcohol is estimated to be between 550,000 and 750,000. In addition to the biological risk that prenatal drug exposure poses to these children, they are at an increased risk of child abuse and neglect by parents whose need for drugs takes priority over the care of their infants and children. As a result there has been a sharp increase in the number of drug exposed children in out-of-home placements, including protective services, respite and crisis care programs.
Some health conditions of drug-exposed infants include but are not limited to low birth weight (babies weighing less than five and a half pounds at birth), prematurity, failure to thrive, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, infectious diseases, and neurobehavioral symptoms. Drug-exposed newborns convey a multitude of behavioral characteristics that make their care challenging, and a few studies indicate that some prenatally substance-exposed infants display developmental problems as toddlers and preschoolers in areas as diverse as language, attachment to primary caregivers, ability to organize behavior, and mental and motor development.
There has not been enough research into the long-term effects of prenatal drug exposure on older children and teenagers; however, we do know that these children are at greater risk of abuse and neglect, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems.
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