Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and Child Behavior

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A historical, prospective design was used. Maternal subjects (n = 116) of 6-year-old singleton, term ([greater-than or equal to]36 weeks) children, and the children's first-grade teachers (n = 102) agreed to participate. The child's first-grade teacher, blinded to study design and exposure status, rated the child's behavior with the Conners' Teacher Rating Scales (CTRS) and an investigator-developed scale, the Problem Behavior Scale (PROBS 14), measuring behaviors reported by educators to be specific to cocaine exposure. Mothers were interviewed by telephone regarding demographic and socioeconomic factors.


Although the cocaine-exposed group had higher (more problem behaviors) for each of the CTRS subscales, the overall multivariate analysis of variance for the CTRS was not significant. Children exposed to cocaine prenatally had higher scores (more problem behaviors) for 11 of the 14 PROBS items and the overall multivariate analysis of variance relating prenatal cocaine exposure to the PROBS was significant (Wilkes' lambda =.775), even after controlling for gender and prenatal exposure to alcohol and cigarettes.


This pilot study supports that teachers blinded to exposure status of early elementary students did rate the cocaine-exposed group as demonstrating significantly more problem behaviors than control children. Although an important first step, postnatal factors that also may influence behavior were not evaluated; hence, causation is not addressed. Pediatrics 1998;102:945-950.

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