Pubdate: Wed, 26 May 2004
Source: Reuters (Wire)
Copyright: 2004 Reuters Limited
Author: Charnicia E. Huggins


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children born to mothers who used cocaine
heavily during pregnancy do not seem to have lower IQ scores than their
peers, although they may have problems with specific skills, according to a
report released Tuesday.

Placing these so-called "crack babies" in foster care or adoptive homes,
however, seems to compensate for some of those problems, the study findings

During the cocaine epidemic in the US in the late 1980s and early 1990s,
many experts predicted that children exposed to cocaine in the womb would
suffer lasting developmental impairment.

"It's important to dispel the myth of the crack-exposed baby that condemned
them to hopeless status," lead author Dr. Lynn T. Singer, of Case Western
Reserve University in Ohio told Reuters Health.

"Cocaine-exposed children are not as devastated as preliminary reports
proposed, and can benefit from stimulating caregiving environments," she

Cocaine is known to cross the mother's placenta into the baby, leading to
potential problems with brain development.

Various researchers have indeed found developmental problems among
preschoolers who experienced prenatal cocaine exposure, but others found no
such association. Also, few studies took into account the child's home
environment, and whether they had been placed in a non-relative's care.

In the current study, Singer and her team followed 190 cocaine-exposed
children from birth until 4 years of age. For comparison, the study also
included 186 children who were not exposed to the drug.

At 4 years old, IQ scores were similar between both groups of children, the
researchers report in this week's Journal of the American Medical
Association (news - web sites). Some cocaine-exposed youngsters even scored
above normal (above 100) on IQ tests, although they were 74 percent less
likely to do so than children in the comparison group.

On the other hand, the cocaine-exposed children did not perform as well as
their peers in a puzzle task that measured their visual-spatial skills, on
tests of their general knowledge or, for boys, on tests of their arithmetic

The researchers also found that the quality of the youngsters' home
environment seemed to compensate for some of the negative effects of the
early cocaine exposure, particularly for those placed in foster or adoptive

While 95 percent of caregivers for the comparison group were the biological
parents, that was the case for only 55 percent of the cocaine-exposed
children. Twenty-two percent of caregivers were adoptive or foster parents
and the remaining 23 percent were relatives.

Adoptive and foster parents tended to be better educated and had a more
stimulating home environment than did biological parents or relatives of
cocaine-exposed children.

Children placed in such environments generally had IQ scores on par with
their non-exposed peers, even though they were exposed to cocaine levels
that were twice as high as those who remained with their biological mothers
or other relatives, the report indicates. They were also less likely to have
IQ scores lower than 70, or in the range of mental retardation.

This finding suggests that "early environmental intervention can prevent
mental retardation for some cocaine-exposed infants," Singer and her team
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