A new study by the Editors of the International Journal of Maternal and Child Health and AIDS (IJMA) shows the first known long-term data on the consequences of maternal opioid use on physical health and developmental outcomes of children using 20 years of clinical data. The study shows that children exposed to opioids in the womb are more likely to face short-term and long-term physical and mental difficulties as they grow up.

The study published in JAMA Network OPEN by Dr. Romuladus Azuine, IJMA Editor-in-Chief and Dr. Gopal Singh, IJMA Editor, showed that for babies, exposure to opioids in the womb was associated with higher risks of fetal growth restriction and preterm birth.

According to the study, among preschool-aged children, opioid exposure was associated with increased risks of lack of expected physiological development and conduct disorder/emotional disturbance. For school-aged children, opioid exposure was associated with a higher risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The U.S. Government is making concerted efforts to identify risk factors and improve prevention strategies to reduce health effects of opioids. In fact, reducing opioid epidemic is a key policy of the Trump administration with billions of dollars budgeted to address the public health problem hitting the country.

Using decades of data from the Boston Birth Cohort, one of the longest existing cohorts in the U.S., Drs. Azuine, Singh, and colleagues found that 454 of the 8509 babies (5.3%) were exposed to opioids in the womb. There was an upward trend in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) over the last 15 years, ranging from a low of 12.1 per 1,000 hospital births in 2003 to a high of 32 per 1,000 births in 2016.

“We have in our hands an epidemic that bears dire risks and consequences for babies, mothers, and future generations. Regardless of who we are: program planners, policy makers, or community leaders, these findings give us enough information to act. The time to act and stop the opioid epidemic is now,” said Dr. Azuine.


Azuine RE, Ji Y, Chang H, et al. Prenatal Risk Factors and Perinatal and Postnatal Outcomes Associated With Maternal Opioid Exposure in an Urban, Low-Income, Multiethnic US Population. JAMA Netw Open. Published online June 28, 20192(6):e196405. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.6405

Brogly S. Maternal and Child Health After Prenatal Opioid Exposure. JAMA Netw Open. Published online June 28, 20192(6):e196428. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.6428 

Birth, Child Outcomes Associated With Moms Using Opioids During Pregnancy, JAMA Network Open, June 28, 2019. 

‘Flawed’ study shows possible lasting effects from drug exposure in the womb, Boston Globe, June 28, 2019.

Opioid exposure leads to poor perinatal and postnatal outcomes, MDEdge, July 10, 2019.

Prenatal opioid exposure could bring long-term harm to kids, MedicalExpress, June 28, 2019.

Significant health risks associated with opioid use during pregnancy, The Evidence Base, July 2, 2019.

International Journal of Maternal and Child Health and AIDS (IJMA).