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Pediatrics. 2010 Mar;125(3):554-65. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-0637. Epub 2010 Feb 8.

A review of the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure among school-aged children.

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  • 1University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, 737 W Lombard St, Room 161, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.

Erratum in

  • Pediatrics. 2011 Sep;128(3):593.



Studies through 6 years have shown no long-term direct effects of prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) on children's physical growth, developmental test scores, or language outcomes. Little is known about the effects of PCE among school-aged children aged 6 years and older.


We reviewed articles from studies that examined the effects of PCE on growth, cognitive ability, academic functioning, and brain structure and function among school-aged children.


Articles were obtained by searching PubMed, Medline, TOXNET, and PsycInfo databases from January 1980 to December 2008 with the terms "prenatal cocaine exposure," "cocaine," "drug exposure," "substance exposure," "maternal drug use," "polysubstance," "children," "adolescent," "in utero," "pregnancy," "development," and "behavior." Criteria for inclusion were (1) empirical research on children aged 6 years and older prenatally exposed to cocaine, (2) peer-reviewed English-language journal, (3) comparison group, (4) longitudinal follow-up or historical prospective design, (5) masked assessment, (6) exclusion of subjects with serious medical disabilities, and (7) studies that reported nonredundant findings for samples used in multiple investigations. Thirty-two unique studies met the criteria. Each article was independently abstracted by 2 authors to obtain sample composition, methods of PCE assessment, study design, comparison groups, dependent variables, covariates, and results.


Associations between PCE and growth, cognitive ability, academic achievement, and language functioning were small and attenuated by environmental variables. PCE had significant negative associations with sustained attention and behavioral self-regulation, even with covariate control. Although emerging evidence suggests PCE-related alterations in brain structure and function, interpretation is limited by methodologic inconsistencies.


Consistent with findings among preschool-aged children, environmental variables play a key role in moderating and explaining the effects of PCE on school-aged children's functioning. After controlling for these effects, PCE-related impairments are reliably reported in sustained attention and behavioral self-regulation among school-aged children.

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