Previous research has provided inconclusive evidence regarding the neuropsychological difficulties of children born to mothers partaking in opioid or poly-drug use during pregnancy. Little is known about how these children fare as they get older. The present longitudinal study includes follow-up data on 45 children born to mothers who used heroin and poly-drugs and a group of 48 children without prenatal drug exposure. Most of the drug-exposed youths were placed in permanent foster or adoptive homes before one year of age. The youths (ages 17 to 21) were administered 10 neuropsychological tests. The drug-exposed youths had cognitive and fine motor functions within the normal range compared to population norms but performed significantly worse than the non-exposed group. There were indications of generally lower cognitive functions rather than specific problems with executive functioning. Lower mean birthweight in the risk group (619 grams mean difference, p < .001) only partially mediated the group differences in cognitive functioning. There was a tendency for youths who had few and early changes in their caregivers or who were born to mothers who had used the least number of different drugs during pregnancy to have the best cognitive scores. The study indicates that youths born to mothers who used multiple drugs during pregnancy are vulnerable relative to their peers within a wide range of cognitive functions. The vulnerability seems to be related not only to the mother’s drug use during pregnancy but also to factors such as birthweight and unstable parental care during infancy.
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