Health Concerns: Children

Prenatal Exposure
Environmental Exposures
Low Dose Chronic Exposures
Drug Endangered Children (DEC)
Treatment of Drug Endangered Children
Additional Articles
Utah Based Resources

Children have several different routes of exposure at different times in their development. Prior to birth, exposure to methamphetamine can occur through the placenta if the mother smokes or is otherwise exposed to methamphetamine. After birth, the infant can be exposed environmentally through the skin, through breast milk, via ingestion, and through inhalation. Older children are likely exposed more through skin penetration and inhalation than through ingestion.

Prenatal Exposure: Prospective, case controlled studies have not shown a significant association with major birth defects with methamphetamine use during pregnancy(17-21). There are, however, significant heath concerns for mothers and babies when methamphetamines are used during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

  • Some possible health effects include:
  • Increase maternal blood pressure
  • Low birth weight
  • Prematurity

While prenatal exposure to methamphetamine may increase the biological risk for developmental delays and learning impairments, whether or not poor outcomes become evident depends largely on the post-natal environment (19).

Breastfeeding is not recommended if a mother is  using methamphetamine  because babies may have side effects such as insomnia, jitteriness, irritability, reduced weight gain, and poor sleep patterns (20).

Since methamphetamine has been shown to easily penetrate the placental barrier, the mother's use of methamphetamine prior to the birth of the child will assure that the child has an intrauterine exposure. Since methamphetamine has been shown to easily penetrate the placental barrier, the mother's use of methamphetamine prior to the birth of the child will assure that the child has an intrauterine exposure.

In a large study of 13, 808 children, a total of 84 children born to families with perinatal methamphetamine exposure were compared to 1534 unexposed children. Children with methamphetamine exposures were found to be 3.5 times more likely to be small for gestational age than the control group. This was a higher risk than for those mothers that used tobacco during pregnancy (2 times more likely). Birth weight in the methamphetamine exposed group was also lower than in the unexposed group.(9)

A second study of the 13,808 children in the Infant Development, Environment and Lifestyle Study (IDEAL) focused on the effects of maternal methamphetamine use and neonatal neurobehavior in the newborn.(10) This study again looked at 13,808 total subjects from which 74 methamphetamine exposed children were entered into the evaluation. The children were given the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale within the first 5 days of life. Based on this test, in utero exposure to methamphetamine was associated with increased physiological stress. Heavy use of methamphetamine during pregnancy was related to lower arousal, lethargy and increased physiological stress. Use during the third trimester was related to poor fetal movement. The authors indicate that these subtle changes may become amplified and lead to more drastic permanent effects, especially if the environment is not changed for the at risk children.

In general, although there is much to be learned regarding the prenatal exposure of children to methamphetamine, preliminary data suggests that this exposure may result in some significant difficulties for these children. On the other hand, the data obtained to date does not suggest that these exposed children are "methamphetamine damaged" to the point of irreversible neurological damage, therefore quick judgments regarding these children should not be made. Ongoing studies are currently be conducted.

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Environmental Exposures to Children:

The adverse health effects caused by childhood exposure to methamphetamine have not been adequately studied at this time. The potential effects of chemical exposures during the manufacturing process have been well documented as well as the accidental ingestion of methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals.(11,12) Exposures to hydrogen chloride, strong bases, reactive metals, and methamphetamine itself have been shown to result in life-threatening illnesses to these children and a number of deaths have been attributed to these exposures.

The effects of exposure to the methamphetamine have been less characterized than have accidental exposures to the precursors or the laboratory environment. Exposure to methamphetamine in both manufacturing environments and in use environments is, however, almost assured with at least 15% of children in use environments testing positive for the drug and almost 100% of children exposed to a manufacturing environment testing positive for the drug.(1,11) Exposure is caused by ingestion from household surfaces, inhalation from re-entrained aerosols, and dermal penetration into the body. Most studies to date have been short-term studies looking at acute effects of these exposures.

A review of the California Poison Control records from January, 2000 to December, 2004 was conducted and a total of 47 charts reviewed for symptoms after exposure to methamphetamine. All of the children were younger than 6 years of age and the effects of the exposure ranged from minor effects to major effects. Exposure to methamphetamine was associated with agitation that was normally treated with benzodiazepines. Elevated heart rate was also recorded in a number of individuals but hypertension and hyperthermia were not observed.

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Low Dose Chronic Exposures?

Recently there has been a concern that instead of looking at the obvious effects of stimulants (excitability, elevated body temperature and heart rate) that we might look for the effects normally observed through the use of methamphetamine therapeutically. It is possible that the chronic exposure to environmental methamphetamine contamination may result in a focusing action similar to the effect upon children with ADD. This is especially concerning since children associated with methamphetamine laboratories frequently appear to be less concerned about the raid and the large numbers of police and fire personnel than would be expected. It is possible that this behavior may be due to a chronic methamphetamine exposure. Far more research is necessary in the area of childhood exposure to methamphetamine and potential health effects.

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Drug Endangered Children

Drug Endangered Children (DEC) are those children who are affected physically, psychologically, or emotionally from consequences related to illegal drug use and production.  These children often suffer from neglect of basic food and safety, injury from explosion, exposure to toxic chemicals, medical neglect, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, or otherwise negatively impacted by illegal drugs. 

Many DEC are associated with meth production and use. Children found in clandestine drug labs where meth is being produced are often found by first responders and may require different type of medical response than those found living in a meth use situation. For that reason, the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children and Utah's Drug Endangered Children Medical Advisory Team have developed two protocols for medical response.

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Treatment of Drug Endangered Children

LEVEL ONE protocol is intended for children found in a lab situation.

LEVEL TWO protocol is intended for children in a meth use situation.

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Additional Articles:

The Methamphetamine Home: Psychological Impact on Preschoolers in Rural Tennessee. (2008). Asanbe, CB., Hall, C., Bolden, CD., National Rural Health Association, 229-234.

Prenatal Methamphetamine Use and Neonatal Neurobehavioral Outcome. (2008) Smith, L.M., LaGasse, L., Deraut, C., Grant, P., Shah, R., Arria, A., et al. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 30(1): 20-28.

Methamphetamine Exposures in Young Children. (2007). Matteucci, M., Auten, J., Crowley, B., Combs, D., Clark, R. Pediatric Emergency Care 2(9):638-640.

Assessment of Children's Exposure to Surface Methamphetamine Residues in Former Clandestine Methamphetmine Labs, and Identification of a Risk-Based Cleanup Standard for Surface Methamphetamine Contamination. (2007) Salocks, C. External Peer Review Draft.

In Vitro Studies of Percutaneous Absorption and Surface-to-Skin Transfer of d-Methamphetamine Hydrochloride Using Human Skin. (poster). Hui, X., Salocks, C., Sanborn, J., & Maibach, H.

The Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle Study: Effects of Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure, Polydrug Exposure, and Poverty on Intrauterine Growth. (2006). Smith, L.M., LaGasse, L., Derauf, C., Grant, P., Shah, R., Arria, A., et al. Pediatrics 118: 1149-1156.

Methamphetamine/Dextroamphetamine and Pregnancy Fact Sheet (2005)
Organization of Teratology Information Specialists

Children in Methamphetamine Homes: A Survey of Physicians Practicing in Southeast Tennessee. (2005). Bratcher, L., Clayton, E., & Greeley, C. Pediatric Emergency Care. 23(10): 696-702.

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Utah Based Resources

Baby Watch Early Intervention Program

Birth Defect Network

Child Adolescent and School Health Program

Fostering Healthy Children

WeeCare Reproductive Health Program

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