Pregnancy :: Hair samples show babies exposure to ‘crystal meth’ – a Canada study

Methamphetamine (MA) abuse is a serious health problem of epidemic proportions. Exposure to this drug, particularly during pregnancy, is difficult to ascertain. Sparse information on gestational exposure is available. Crystal meth boosts alertness and promotes a sense of wellbeing, euphoria, and exhilaration. It also curbs appetite and enhances sexual arousal. But long term abuse damages nerves in the brain and can lead to psychotic behaviour and aggression.

The drug is very easy to manufacture in home laboratories, and global use has soared, particularly among young women, say the authors. An estimated half a million Americans alone are thought to use it every week, including 5% of pregnant women.

To quantify MA accumulation in hair, identify co-exposure of MA with other drugs of abuse and characterize correlations between concentrations of MA in maternal and neonatal hair.

Motherisk laboratory at Hospital for Sick Children routinely carries out analysis of MA in hair. Mothers and infants with positive results for MA in hair were identified. Drugs present in hair are analyzed by ELISA, and positive results confirmed by GC / MS.

“We identified 396 individuals positive for MA in hair in our database. Almost 85% of them were positive for at least one other drug of abuse, mostly cocaine. Eleven mother-baby pairs with positive hair for MA were identified. Hair MA levels ranged between 0.13 to 51.97 ng/mg in the mothers and 0 to 22.73 ng/mg in the neonates. MA levels in mothers and neonates correlated significantly. One neonate (9%) was negative for MA even though the mother was positive”

“To our knowledge, this is the first report on fetal exposure to MA during pregnancy showing transplacental transfer of the drug, with accumulation in fetal hair. Hair measurement for MA in neonates is a useful screening method to detect intra-uterus exposure to the drug. Our data also indicate that positive exposure to MA strongly suggests that the person is a polydrug user, which may have important implications for fetal safety” concluded by Garcia-Bournissen, Ben Rokach, Tatyana Karaskov and Gideon Koren of Hospital for Sick Children, Canada.

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