Objectives: To describe the psychosocial and clinical characteristics of children referred to a community-based child and adolescent mental health service, whose mothers reported that they took opiates during the pregnancy.
Methods: In a retrospective study, the case notes of all children whose mothers reported that they had been exposed to opiates in utero, and who were referred to the Department of Child and Family Psychiatry, Mater Hospital, between 2001–2003, were identified by maternal reports. Information was obtained on age, gender, referral source, socio-economic group, family type, number of siblings, involvement of community care services, nature of presenting problems, diagnosis, interventions offered, and treatment difficulties. Information was recorded anonymously.
Results: 15 children were identified, of whom nine were male. Most were found to be living with their mother alone or with their mother and a partner, and to be socially and financially disadvantaged. Their presenting complaints usually involved combinations of aggressive, hyperactive, and oppositional behaviour. Diagnoses included ADHD, a speech and language disorder, and an axis II disorder. Interventions were frequently unsuccessful because of parents' difficulties with attending appointments, and because of instability in the families' living arrangements.
Conclusions: These children, due to a complex interplay of biological and psychosocial adversity, are at serious risk of ongoing psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence, and for adverse outcomes in adult life. A prospective cohort study of all children born to opiatedependent mothers is necessary to quantify the level of risk and identify resilience factors.