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Prenatal drug exposure is a common public health concern that can result in perinatal complications, birth defects, and developmental disorders. The growing literature regarding the effects of prenatal exposure to specific drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin is often conflicting and constantly changing. This review discusses several reasons why the effects of prenatal drug exposure are so difficult to determine, including variations in dose, timing, duration of exposure, polydrug use, unreliable measures of drug exposure, latent or “sleeper” effects, genetic factors, and socioenvironmental influences. In addition to providing research guidelines, this review also aims to help clinicians and policy makers to identify the strengths and weaknesses in studies investigating the effects of prenatal drug exposure. This knowledge may be used to make better informed decisions regarding the appropriate treatment for pregnant, drug-dependent women and their children.
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