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PLoS One. 2019 Oct 10;14(10):e0223685. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0223685. eCollection 2019.

Educational achievement at age 9.5 years of children born to mothers maintained on methadone during pregnancy.

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School of Psychology, Speech and Hearing, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
School of Health Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.


Recent research shows that preschool children born to opioid-dependent mothers are at increased risk for cognitive, psychomotor, attention, and social-emotional adjustment problems. But very little is known about their school-age functioning, particularly their educational achievement. This analysis examined the educational outcomes of a regional cohort of 100 prenatally methadone-exposed children who were prospectively studied from birth to age 9.5 years alongside a comparison group of 110 randomly identified non-exposed children born between 2003 and 2008. At age 9.5, as part of a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation, children's teachers rated their achievement across the school curriculum, and children completed the Woodcock Johnson-III Tests of Achievement (WJ-III). Detailed information about the birth mother's social background, pregnancy substance use, and mental health was also collected during pregnancy/at term. Infant clinical data were collected after birth. Methadone-exposed children performed less well than non-exposed children across seven school curriculum areas rated by teachers (ps ≤.001), performed less well than non-exposed children on all reading and mathematics subtests of the WJ-III, and had higher rates of any educational delay on the WJ-III (57% vs. 15%), OR = 7.47 (3.71-15.02). Results were similar when children with severe intellectual impairment were excluded. After adjusting for confounding factors, methadone-exposed children had increased odds of educational delay, but this was only marginally significant (OR = 3.62, [1.01-13.01], p = .049). Maternal educational attainment level (OR = 0.69, [0.50-0.89], p = .006), and maternal benzodiazepine use during pregnancy (OR = 2.70 [1.03-7.12], p = .044) were also associated with later educational risk. Findings suggest that children born to opioid-dependent women enrolled in methadone maintenance are at high risk of educational delay by age 9.5 years. Children's academic difficulties appeared to reflect the effects of both adverse prenatal exposures and postnatal social risk.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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