Wilkinson, A., Rackers, H.S. & Harmon, T.M. Developmental implications of prenatal opioid exposure among school-aged children: a mixed methods and community-initiated analysis. BMC Public Health 23, 1815 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-16702-8
Growing research points to potential long-term developmental implications of prenatal opioid exposure for children. Yet, polysubstance use and adverse childhood experiences are raised as potential confounders. Further, there is a lack of data on school-age children and the children’s strengths.
Parents and caregivers of children with prenatal opioid exposure worked with the study team to design, collect, and descriptively analyze mixed method data. Data were collected through survey (n = 148) and two focus groups (n = 15) from a convenience sample in mostly West Virginia and Massachusetts.
Nearly half of the children in the sample were diagnosed with multiple developmental delays, behavioral health conditions, and specific learning disorders. Roughly 85% of children have behavioral challenges. Associations between prenatal opioid exposure and negative developmental outcomes did not vary by type of opioid nor by polysubstance use, while controlling for adverse childhood experiences. Importantly, over 80% of families also reported their child’s strengths, including empathy, social magnetism, and their resilience.
The challenges for children born with prenatal opioid exposure may extend into school-age. The results are consistent with prior research on younger children, suggesting a need for best practices for caring for these children beyond the neonatal stage.