Essay Harmful Effects of Drug Abuse During Pregnancy

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Increasing numbers of women are abusing drugs during pregnancy and thus endangering the well-being and lives of their children as well as themselves. The spreading abuse of phencyclidine (PCP), cocaine, and cocaine's potent form "crack," added to the more well-known addictive narcotics such as heroin, has intensified concerns about the implications of maternal drug use for unborn children.

Some harmful effects are generally recognized. Cocaine use, for example, increases risk of hemorrhage and premature delivery, threatening the lives of mother and child. Babies exposed to narcotics in the womb are frequently born addicted, and the misery they suffer from withdrawal makes them difficult to care for, creating special demands on mothers
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A 1988 survey conducted by the National Association for Perinatal Addiction Research and Education, of 36 hospitals from across the country and representing approximately 155,000 pregnancies annually, found that on average 11 percent of pregnant women used heroin, methadone, amphetamines, PCP, marijuana, and, most commonly, cocaine.

The researchers estimate that each year, as many as 375,000 infants may be affected by their mothers' drug use. Dr. Barry Zuckerman and his colleagues at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston City Hospital conducted a study of 1,226 women who gave birth at the hospital between 1986 and 1988. Of this group, 27 percent had smoked marijuana, and 18 percent used cocaine.

The researchers found that marijuana users gave birth to babies who are 3 ounces lighter and 1/5 inch shorter than babies born to women who did not use marijuana, while cocaine use was associated with still shorter and lighter infants. Dr. Loretta P. Finnegan, director of the Family Center of Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, reports that urine screens show that 58 percent are using the substance.

Effects on Pregnant Mother and Fetus

Until relatively recently, NIDA's research on the effects of maternal drug use on fetal and infant

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