Prenatal Cocaine Exposure Leads To Lower Child IQ Scores, Language Skills

Prenatal cocaine exposure lowers IQ and language performance scores and results in thousands of children each year who enter school needing special education services, according to a new study by three Brown University researchers.

Up to 80,550 new children will fail in school and need special education services each year at a cost of up to $352 million because they were exposed to cocaine in the womb, said Barry M. Lester, professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Brown University School of Medicine, and lead author of the study. The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The findings appear in the Oct. 23, 1998, issue of Science, and provide the first systematic glimpse at the long-term effects of prenatal cocaine exposure. Until this point, most studies have involved only infants and preschoolers. "The good news is it gives people room to be optimistic about these kids because the kind of effects we are seeing are treatable with proper intervention," said Lester. "But to do that you've got to believe the money has to be spent."

Researchers analyzed information on more than 800 school-age children from eight studies. Lester worked with Linda L. LaGasse, assistant professor, and Ronald Seifer, associate professor, in the Brown University School of Medicine. Using meta-analysis, a statistical procedure in which studies are pooled, Lester and his colleagues were able to provide a better estimate of the effect of prenatal cocaine exposure than a single study.

Three measures of intelligence were used: IQ, receptive language and expressive language. Receptive language tests measure speaking ability and involve asking a child to identify what is in a picture. Expressive language tests measure comprehension by asking a child to answer questions. Children in the coca

Contact: Kristen Lans
Brown University

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