Prenatal opioid exposure – increasing evidence of harm

Mactier, H. and Hamilton, R. (2020) Prenatal opioid exposure – increasing evidence of harm. Early Human Development, 150, 105188. (doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2020.105188) (PMID:32958331)

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Prenatal opioid exposure adversely impacts upon fetal growth and places the newborn at risk of neonatal opioid withdrawal. The severity and duration of opioid withdrawal cannot be predicted in the individual baby and may be contributed to by other drugs including benzodiazepines and alcohol as well as cigarette smoking. Mitigating factors include breastfeeding, rooming in and absence of maternal polypharmacy. Less well recognised are a variety of other complications associated with prenatal opioid exposure including epigenetic changes, effects on neurophysiological function and structural alterations to the developing brain. The visual system is significantly affected, with changes to both clinical and electrophysiological function persisting at least to mid-childhood. Longer term neurodevelopmental and behavioural outcomes are confounded by multiple factors including poverty, parent-child interaction and small study numbers, but systematic reviews consistently demonstrate poorer outcomes for those children and young people prenatally exposed to opioids. Crucially, manifestation of neonatal withdrawal is not a prerequisite for important long term problems including behavioural, emotional or motor function disorder, sensory or speech disorder, strabismus and nystagmus. A body of evidence supports an independent adverse effect of prenatal opioid exposure upon fetal brain development, mediated via a systemic neuro-inflammatory process. Children prenatally exposed to opioids should remain under appropriate follow up, at least until school entry, as difficulties may only become apparent in mid-childhood. Future studies of the management of opioid use disorder in pregnancy, including maintenance methadone, must include longer term outcomes for the baby.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Hamilton, Dr Ruth and MacTier, Dr Helen
Authors: Mactier, H., and Hamilton, R.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing
Journal Name:Early Human Development
ISSN (Online):1872-6232
Published Online:10 September 2020

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