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Prenatal Opioid Exposure and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes

The opioid epidemic in the United States has resulted in a significant increase in opioid use disorder among pregnant women and a concomitant increase in the incidence of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome. The long-term consequences of prenatal opioid exposure on neurodevelopmental outcomes are not fully understood. Animal studies indicate increased neuronal apoptosis and decreased neuronal proliferation and myelination with opioid exposure in-utero. Meta-analyses of human studies suggest decreased cognition and psychomotor performance in infancy and deficits in cognition and language in preschool. However, current studies have primarily focused on heroin or methadone exposure and have been limited by small sample size, inadequate comparison groups, and the inability to account for additional risk factors and exposures such as polysubstance abuse, poor prenatal care, neonatal withdrawal and treatment with opioids, and unsupportive home environment. Future studies should aim to better understand the potential impact of these confounding factors on the neurodevelopmental trajectory of exposed infants. This review discusses the up-to-date literature, current gaps in knowledge, and considerations for future studies in the arena of prenatal opioid exposure and neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Authors: Lee, Jennifer J; Saraiya, Neeta; Kuzniewicz, Michael W

J Neurosurg Anesthesiol. 2023 Jan 01;35(1):142-146. Epub 2022-12-06.

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