Neuroanatomical and cognitive differences have been documented during childhood between children with prenatal opioid- and poly-drug exposure and controls in small samples. We investigated whether these differences persisted in larger samples of youth at older ages. Quantitative MRI and cognitive data were compared between 38 youths in the risk group and 44 youths in the non-exposed group (aged 17 to 22 years) who had been followed prospectively since birth. Most drug-exposed youths (84%) moved to permanent foster or adoptive homes before one year of age. The drug-exposed group displayed smaller neuroanatomical volumes (0.70 SD difference in total brain volume, p = 0.001), smaller cortical surface areas and thinner cortices than the comparison group. The birth weight accounted for some of the intergroup differences. Neuroanatomical characteristics partially mediated group differences in cognitive function. The present study cannot differentiate between causal factors but indicates persistent neurocognitive differences associated with prenatal opioid or poly-drug exposure.
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