Children born to drug dependent mothers: the creation of a unique virtual cohort study

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019


Current evidence suggests that children born to drug-dependent mothers are at a developmental disadvantage from pre-birth: such children have reduced intrauterine growth, which cannot be explained by poverty or other socio-demographic factors (Lui et al., 2010). Children who have been exposed to chronic opioid use are likely to experience Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Children are additionally affected in the postnatal period by the mother’s ability to recognise and respond to the newborn’s cues (Velez et al. 2008). Children’s development is often compounded by the environment that they experience growing up (Hidden Harm report, 2003). However, research to date has focussed primarily on the infancy period, and most being conducted with very small sample numbers.


The study aims to explore the potential of routine health data to create a cohort of children born to drug dependent mothers and to, in the first instance, explore child health ourcomes in the first 5 years of life. This poster will describe the proposed study with the hope of stimulating discussion about further directions of the project.


Data from a variety of national Scottish sources will be utilised. Approximately 5,000 women using drugs during pregnancy will be identified through antenatal and drugs databases, and linked through birth records to their child’s data. Data on early child outcomes will include birth outcomes, neonatal care, and early health and developmental data will be examined.


Scotland is one of very few places in the world where these data are available. Data will be examined at a national and health board level (where numbers allow).


Approximately 5,000 women who used drugs during pregnancy and c.10,000 matched controls (matched for maternal age and area level deprivation), who had given birth between 2007 and 2012 in Scotland.


This unique study will provide valuable insight into the early health outcomes of children born to drug using mothers, using a novel approach through the linkage of routine mother and child health data.

Conflicts of interest:

No conflicts of interest

Dr Louise Marryat