Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Meth Babies—Fact or Fiction?


Research team finds brain abnormalities.

When it came to babies born to crack-addicted mothers, the media went overboard, creating a crisis in the form of an epidemic that never quite was. By contrast, when it came to babies born to alcoholic mothers, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome went unrecognized in the science and medical community until 1968.

ResearchBlogging.orgNow comes a study on prenatal methamphetamine exposure in The Journal of Neuroscience, headed up by Elizabeth Sowell of the University of California, Los Angeles, with support from both the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA.) The report garnered considerable media attention. “We know that alcohol exposure is toxic to the developing fetus and can result in lifelong brain, cognitive and behavioral problems,” Sowell said in a press release. “In this study, we show that the effects of prenatal meth exposure, or the combination of meth and alcohol exposure, may actually be worse.”

It makes sense that meth might effect the health of unborn children.  There is a modest body of research to support the notion. The Sowell study points a finger at the caudate nucleus, a brain region involved with learning and memory.  The study showed that the caudate nucleus of the meth-using group was reduced in size. “Identifying vulnerable brain structures may help predict particular learning and behavioral problems in meth-exposed children,” the press release optimistically states. And the potential problem is real enough: More than 16 million Americans have used meth, according to government numbers. An estimated 19,000 of these users are pregnant women.

But is this particular study a definitive one? The icing on the cake? To begin with, the press release from The Journal of Neuroscience admits to a major problem right up front: “About half of women who say they used meth during pregnancy also used alcohol, so isolating the effects of meth on the developing brain is difficult.”  Even in cases of meth exposure only, there are a host of negative behavioral factors that often accompany meth addiction (bad nutrition, minimal health care, poor health) that can significantly effect fetal development.

The study team compared the MRI brain scans of 61 children: “21 with prenatal MA (methamphetamine) exposure, 18 with concomitant prenatal alcohol exposure (the MAA group), 13 with heavy prenatal alcohol but not MA exposure (ALC group), and 27 unexposed controls. While finding “striatal volume reductions,” as well as increases in the size of certain limbic structures in both groups with meth and/or alcohol exposure, the researchers conclude that striatal and limbic structures “may be more vulnerable to prenatal MA exposure than alcohol exposure.” However, that conclusion was apparently reached despite the fact that only 3 of the 61 children under study were born to mothers who did meth, and meth only, during pregnancy.

Furthermore, there is significant controversy over brain scan studies that measure gross anatomical changes in the size of specific brain regions, rather than brain region activity based on blood flow.

Is there other evidence for the danger of meth use during pregnancy? There is, but as is frequently the case, some of the best evidence comes from animal studies. A 2008 guinea pig study by Sanika Chirwa showed neural damage to the hippocampus, another region involved in memory, in newborn animals with prenatal meth exposure. Furthermore, the newborn animals showed an impaired ability to distinguish novel objects from familiar ones.

In 2006, a study at Brown Medical School, published in Pediatrics , found that newborns exposed to meth during pregnancy were born “small for gestational age,” meaning they were born full-term, but smaller than babies not exposed to meth in utero.  According to study author Barry Lester, “Children who are born underweight tend to have behavior problems, such as hyperactivity or short attention span, as well as learning difficulties.”

However, Lester added an important caveat in a Brown University press release : “I hope that the ‘crack baby’ hysteria does not get repeated. While these children may have some serious health and developmental challenges, there is no automatic need to label them as damaged and remove them from their biological mothers.”

Similar caution was urged by the authors of a 2009 report in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: “Efforts to understand specific effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure on cognitive processing are hampered by high rates of concomitant alcohol use during pregnancy.”

In 2005, an open letter from the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland warned about the dangers of hyperbole, calling upon the media and public officials to “stop perpetuating ‘meth baby’ myths.” The Center argued that “The terms ‘ice babies’ and ‘meth babies’ lack medical and scientific validity and should not be used,” and requested that “policies addressing prenatal exposure to methamphetamines and media coverage of this issue be based on science, not presumption or prejudice.”


Sowell, E., Leow, A., Bookheimer, S., Smith, L., O'Connor, M., Kan, E., Rosso, C., Houston, S., Dinov, I., & Thompson, P. (2010). Differentiating Prenatal Exposure to Methamphetamine and Alcohol versus Alcohol and Not Methamphetamine using Tensor-Based Brain Morphometry and Discriminant Analysis Journal of Neuroscience, 30 (11), 3876-3885 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4967-09.2010

Smith, L., LaGasse, L., Derauf, C., Grant, P., Shah, R., Arria, A., Huestis, M., Haning, W., Strauss, A., Grotta, S., Liu, J., & Lester, B. (2006). The Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle Study: Effects of Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure, Polydrug Exposure, and Poverty on Intrauterine Growth PEDIATRICS, 118 (3), 1149-1156 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2005-2564

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

i have custody of my niece born with methanphetimines 0n 7-2-09 she was released to me upon release from the nicu,she has had severe withdrawals she is now 9 1/2 months old and is getting worse as she is getting older she does not sleep more than an hour or 2 at a time and at night she stands up in her crib screaming for hours at a time she also cant stand it to be dark or be in a room alone she needs to be held close all the time i try rocking her and when she does go to sleep and i try to put her in her bed she gets up and starts screaming again she acts nervous all the time also. i'm looking for info that can help me help her if anyone knows something i can try please tell me this is so sad i think moms that shoot the drugs in there arms while pregnant should be prosacuted

Anonymous said...

This is sad I feel for your niece. I am a foster parent who wants to adopt a child. We recently received a call for a little 2 month old boy. His mom is a meth user and used while pregnant even a couple hours before she delivered. He was born full term and his weight was good 7lbs. But he was born positive and went through withdrawals. He had problems sucking and they think he might have a heart murmur. He was in ICU for 12 days then released. As of now he is sleeping & eating well. I am scared that as he grows there might be problems. We will have our first visit with him soon. Why do mothers do this to their innocent children. I am interested in any info you may find. Good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

I adopted a child that was a meth baby. He barely weighed 2 lbs. at birth. He was diagnosed with many health issues, however now he is very healthy and doing well. The only issue i now have is he has outbursts and becomes very angry. This of course only happens when he is upset. Otherwise he is a very mellow child. He still only sleeps small amounts of times. He however is a blessing to our family. Remember things do get better in time. Your neice may outgrow some of these issues.I do agree that moms should be prosacuted as well when they subject their unborn child to their addiction.

Julie Fields said...

I am a adopted mother of a 6 yr meth baby, very high levels at birth,, she is very hyper. poor impulse control. demanding. i got her at 3moths old.; She doesnt sleep good, eats poorly. But she is very smart.. We now have bowel issues?? It takes alot of patience for me.. She also is very short. As a baby she also didnt like to be held and to this day doesnt transition well, She has always hated crowds.. Any comments from people that have older meth kids are welcome to email me..

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I'm a foster parent of a child exposed to meth in utero. I've had him since birth and he is now 6 yrs old. He was premature, born at 31 weeks. Bio mother did not receive prenatal care during this time, she also was high on meth when she gave birth to him. He had a stroke @ birth, is missing parts of his brain (scizencephly), has cerebral palsy, failure to thrive, epilepsy, visual impairment and receives his nutrition through TPN and Lipids through a cental line into his heart, and no motility in his intestines. He still sleeps in 30 min to one hr incriments then is awake for 5hrs. This has been from day one. My husband and I have learned to sleep in shifts in order to maintain stamina to keep up with him. This child is the 5th one from the biological mother, why aren't the prosecuted? Why does the public continue to protect these parents rights? There is an entire generation of meth addicted children who suffer not only medically as well has behaviorally who don't have a voice or supports for them later in life. I am so sick of Judges, lawyers, caseworkers, and physicians putting these children back in harms way and protecting the parents of these children. Its a disgrace to these children to have to live this life with a person that created their disability...rather pathetic

Anonymous said...

Iam 27 weeks pregnant and i havent smoked meth my entire pregnancy until last night i slipped up and didnt mean to. I was just wondering if my baby would test positive for meth? I feel so bad for what i did i dont want CPS to take me baby please let me know thankyou.
sincerley,
Feel Bad Mother

Dirk Hanson said...

I'm not a doctor or a lawyer so can't answer you specific questions. I CAN say that research shows that any amount of meth can be bad for your baby, but I suspect you know that already. As for drug testing, depends on the type of test.Only advice I know to give is just to concentrate on not having another slip.

Anonymous said...

Your not a bad mother at all I understand the slips and I know you feel bad.I am 4 months almost 5.and I can tell u this.my bestfriend was addicted to crack and meth and she used the hole time and when she gave birth to him he was dead and blue but he is 2 years old today and a mirical baby.I have sloped up once and never aging will touch that mess.people who haven't used don't know how hard it is.they just like to juge even tho they don't understand.

Benita Moore said...

I have a son adopted when he was 17 mos. He is my 2nd cousin and his birth mother used meth the entire time of her pregnancy. He is now 26 years old and has a child of his own. Throughout the years we have dealt with his inability to follow through and focus. He is also addicted heavily to smoking pain meds. I think there is a correlation, but can't find it. He needs help, can't find that, either.

Anonymous said...

My nephew is 11 now and his mother did meth throughout her pregnancy. The only long lasting issue I see with him is that he rarely sleeps. Up all night, taking cat naps. Other than that he is a smart vibrant child. Mild mannered and does well in school.

Anonymous said...

I used meth as a teenager, and at age 17 found out I was pregnant. I quit the day I found out after being addicted for almost 2 yrs. I DO know what it's like to be addicted to meth, but I also know that I loved my unborn child more than my own selfish desires. It is not that hard to quit...if you want to. I have now been sober for 14 years and have watched other people I grew up with lose their children to CPS due to their meth addictions. It is possible, and I have been there...so I'm not just judging. The baby doesn't have a choice, but you do. Making unselfish choices for your child is what being a good parent is all about. It's what being a parent is about period. The reason parents exist is to do for their kids what they are too young to do themselves! However, if you are too caught up in your own self and what you want you are in no position to be a parent. If you are pregnant and saying that you didn't mean to, I don't understand. You were sober when you put that meth pipe up to your lips and puffed on it, and you know it's not good for the baby! Yet you still chose to use! I hope for your childs sake it was a one time thing-even though one time is too many-and you have moved on from your addiction so you can be a good parent! Knowing that baby is inside you, feeling each little flutter when it moves, why on earth would you decide to do it harm! Because what you wanted was more important?! There is help out there for those who love their children enough to seek it out, and I hope you do!!!

Dirk Hanson said...

Thanks for your candid comments.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, although I understand that you may be strong enough to give up your drug addiction many are not and I'm sorry but you are judging. You do not know the complexity of drug addiction whilst pregnant or the emotional disgust and trauma that you go through, it's very easy for you to say how EASY it is to give up and maybe it is for you but here's my story. I have 3 children, I was an abused child, I started taking drugs at an early age to cope with my emotions, I went from one abusive relationship to another, I was addicted to amphetamine when I got pregnant with my first I gave up straight away, my second I was free of addiction at that stage. But I had severe post natal depression, experienced from severe depression as a teenager, I was manic from trauma and abuse, I self medicated all my life, by the time I was pregnant with my third I was on a ticket of no return, to give up was to have a full mental breakdown I was using to survive, like medicine everyday I would take a small amount just to keep me alive. It took me 6 months after his birth to get off it, I had a full mental and psychological breakdown, the whole time I was addicted I didn't want to be, I went to the top addictions specialist in my city, he gave me Valium an said I was in no moral danger. And sent me home, I was dying but I was being kept alive by my addiction, I was bi-polar or manic depressive, I was treated for that and now I am no longer being abused by my children's father or anyone and I no longer need anything to survive. I love my kids but at that stage I was dead inside, I've recovered, my son has an intellectual disability, an inherited gene from his father and possibly from drug use by myself, we are still testing for the effects, although the doctors believe that had nothing to do with it, I am not convinced. I do not condone drug use in pregnancy but I do understand the complexity of it, until we learn to treat the cause not the symptom, this will keep happening. So while I congratulate u for having the will to give up in your pregnancy, I did the same thing, but it crept back up on me just when I thought I was safe, I thought being pregnant would save me and stop me from doing drugs but it didn't, I nearly killed myself and my son while the whole time I was using it to stay alive. Addiction is the most debilitating disease that has ever been, yet people just continue to judge and condemn, it's a disease and it needs a cure. I am not proud of what I've been through but I'm proud of who I am, I was so far gone that I had no choice, I thought I could stop but I couldn't, I always stopped before, but this damaged me so much that I cured myself of all my addictions, I don't even drink tea or coffee, I don't take anything that's addictive, I'm free of my addictions, but I had to nearly die to do it. You don't decide to do harm, your a victim to addiction, as someone who's been through both ends of the scale, I think I would be more informed as to what advice to give here, and the biggest fear of anyone who's addicted is judgement, you have no idea what your talking about, you've never been through, I like you thought exactly the same thing and yet I ended up doing the one thing I thought the biggest thing, my biggest judgement, my morals went out the window, I was no longer in control, the drug was in control and that's how powerful it can be.

Anonymous said...

I adopted a meth baby and had to go through over 21 months of his teenaged addicted bmom trying to reclaim him because she had been a runaway from the system herself. The system finally tested her one day and found her still addicted to the same thing that was in his body at birth and sent him home with me. Then, the social worker wanted me to find out who the birth father was before they would process his adoption. What a huge mess. They never found the father and frankly never tried. They further had been sitting on their hands for 21 months about this. A word to the wise, force them to do their job. Speak to their supervisors and directors often.

This child went through a very long list of developmental delays, failure to thrive and therapies: physical, occupational and speech and had been abandoned by his bmom twice before he came to me through the foster to adopt program in our state. He weighed 14 pounds at 14 months and was failure to thrive with 30 to 60 percent delays in all developmental areas.

We struggled with sensitivities and dietary problems, illnesses, then a divorce and his allergies that developed into eczema and then asthma that hospitalized him at age 7. They thought he had a long list of horrible ailments, even suspected cancer, but he didn't, or nothing was ever found specifically.

He's 12 now and getting ready to go back into speech therapy because he has an auditory processing problem that causes him not to hear with competing noises, like in a classroom setting... He also still gets a lot of viruses or colds, especially when his father feeds him gluten, dairy and sugar. That combination sets him up for illness fairly often, but his father refuses to listen.

Meanwhile, he got really high scores on his TCAPs last year and is a sweet child, except when he has tantrums, which are coming on strong now during puberty. He has sleep problems, confidence issues and has been through a horrific divorce since his adoption that has been a nightmare for me too.

Yet, somehow, through it all, he continues to surprise all of the professionals that help him and especially his own mother..me. I keep asking for angels to watch over him and keep him doing what is right for him, and they do. Prayer does help each and every one of us. It has kept me sane through all this and will follow me and this precious child as far as we can go.

His bmom has had several more kids and somehow apparently kept them, or at least gets them back for photos, but the last one looked like a poster child for meth addiction. I saw a photo online. It was very sad. I have learned to ask the angels not to just help my child but each and every one of us, wherever we are. They will help you too. Life is a gift and angels are waiting to comfort each and every one of us...all we must do is ask for help.

Christina Sears said...

I am the step mom of a little boy whose mom i was ok with until I found out she used meth while she was pregnant. She gave birth to twins on Sep 11 2012. A boy and a girl I was so happy for her I love babies. Than I got the call that CPS was standing on my porch and they wanted my stepson at that point I knew those babies tested positive for something when I found out it was meth I was disgusted and now we have to fight to get my stepson out of foster care. I really agree that mothers that use hard drugs while pregnant should be prosecuted. And CPS is really giving her a chance she knew what she was doing and she has only been clean for 30 days. The foster mom has no clue what the side effects are and i am doing everything in my power to help her help them but I have never delt with anything like this before either any advice would be great.

Anonymous said...

my sons girlfriend is pregnant and has run off to run the streets doing meth . She has been on meth cocaine alcohol and no telling what else , At the start of the pregnancy my son caught her doing meth in a closet at a friends house a few days later she was in a bathroom at another friends house . My son started to become very controlling with her (physically trying to stop her from running off with her friends to do meth ) For people that didn't know about her meth and cocaine addiction(her parents, and some other family members ) it my have seamed like he was controlling and not behaving himself . My son was arrested when her mother thought my son was being abusive . the truth was he was trying to keep his methed out of her mind pregnant girlfriend from running off in the middle of the night she was crazy she busted the mirrors off her car, the next day she told her mother that my son had busted up the car. The police were called and my son was arrested , he spent 60 days in jail . She has run off doing meth coke and alcohol the whole pregnancy . She has also been arrested twice once for grand theft auto , she is now 7 mths pregnant and out of her mind . We tried going to CPS and were told we cant do anything until the baby is born . She stopped her prenatal care after testing positive for meth. Im so angry that my first grandchild will be born addicted to drugs and will be born with so many things against him and we cant do anything to stop it

Anonymous said...

If you will get your foster care license and get cleared with the state before the baby is born that you can intervene and take the baby. Otherwise the baby will be in fostercare till you are cleared. Take the proactive choice and do it ahead of time.
Good luck

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