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‘Meth babies’ study sees behavior problems

CHICAGO - The first study to look at methamphetamine’s potential lasting effects on children whose mothers used the drug during pregnancy finds these children at higher risk for behavior problems than other children.

The behavior differences - anxiety, depression, moodiness - were not huge but still “very worrisome,’’ said Linda LaGasse of Brown University’s Center of the Study of Children at Risk. The study was published online Monday in Pediatrics.

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Methamphetamine is a stimulant like crack cocaine; earlier research showed “meth babies’’ have similarities to “crack babies’’ - they are smaller and prone to drowsiness and stress. Results in long-term studies conflict on whether children of cocaine-using mothers have lasting problems.

Whether problems persist in young children of meth users is unknown. But LaGasse said methamphetamine has stronger effects on the brain so it may be more likely to cause lasting effects in children. Government data suggest more than 10 million Americans have used meth; less than 1 percent of pregnant women are users.

Joseph Frascella, who heads a behavioral division at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which provided a grant for the study, said the research is among the groundbreaking studies examining effects of substance abuse during pregnancy. But because the study is a first, the results should be viewed cautiously and need to be repeated, he said.

The study of children tracked from age 3 through 5 builds on earlier research by LaGasse on the same group - 330 youngsters tracked in the Midwest and West, areas where meth use is most common. Mothers were recruited shortly after giving birth in Des Moines, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Tulsa, Okla.

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