(HealthDay News) – Prenatal methamphetamine (MA) exposure is linked to emotional and anxiety problems in 3 year olds and an increased risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 5 year olds.

Linda L. LaGasse, PhD, of Brown University in Providence, RI, and colleagues analyzed data from the Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle study, a prospective, longitudinal study of prenatal MA exposure and child outcome. Prenatal exposure was determined by maternal self-report and/or meconium results. Exposed and comparison groups were matched by race, birth weight, public health insurance, and education; both groups had prenatal exposures to tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana. Using the caregiver report on the Child Behavior Checklist at ages 3 and 5 years, 330 children (166 exposed and 164 controls) were assessed for behavior problems.

The researchers found that MA exposure was associated with higher scores, reflecting increased emotional reactivity and anxious/depressed problems at both ages and externalizing and ADHD problems by 5 years of age. Heavy exposure was related to attention problems and withdrawn behavior at both ages. There were no effects for MA seen on the scales for internalizing or total behavior problems.

“This first report of behavior problems in patients as young as 3 years associated with MA exposure identifies an important public health problem,” the authors write.

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