Hair samples from mothers and their newborn babies can be used to screen for abuse of methamphetamine, investigators report.
"Women who use methamphetamine are very likely to be polydrug users," Dr Gideon Koren told Reuters Health. "This means there are huge postnatal risks for the child, and those kids and their mothers need careful follow-up to ensure optimal development."
Koren, from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and colleagues investigated the accumulation of methamphetamine and other drugs of abuse in maternal and foetal hair.
"Foetal hair begins to form at the end of the second trimester (around 20 weeks of gestation) and shares with adult hair the ability to retain drugs present in the foetal circulation," the researchers explain in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, "thus allowing the evaluation of foetal exposure to drugs of abuse during the second part of the pregnancy."
Just under 400 of the 8 270 people in their database were positive for methamphetamine, including 11 mother-infant pairs, the team reports.
Among the subjects who tested positive for methamphetamine, 83.5 percent were also positive for another drug, most often cocaine, the report indicates. "We did not expect so much polydrug use, which has the potential of increasing maternal and foetal risks," Koren said.
A tool for screening
By showing that meth can be transferred to the unborn baby, the researchers "have provided a tool for screening for gestational exposure to the drug," write Dr Mark Anderson and Dr Imti Choonara from the University of Nottingham, UK, in a related editorial.
"To tackle the problems associated with methamphetamine use," the editorial concludes, "we must also focus on prevention and treatment for mothers, children, and families."
SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood - Foetal and Neonatal Edition, September 2007. – (Reuters Health)
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