The most vulnerable types of patients are infants, especially those born to mothers who have abused drugs while pregnant. These babies enter the world already addicted to drugs like cocaine, heroin, alcohol or methamphetamines and have to undergo constant monitoring and lengthy hospital stays.

Those born opiate-dependent are thrown into almost immediate withdrawals, because they are no longer getting the drugs from their mother, so their first days are wrought with pain, insomnia, irritation, tremors and sometimes even seizures. These are symptoms that most adults go to great lengths to avoid because they are so painful, but drug-addicted infants have no choice.

During their hospital stay, these infants are often given round-the-clock care, but a new study shows that this may not be enough. This is because the effects of the drugs do not go away when the withdrawal symptoms stop. In fact, there is more evidence that children born to mothers who abused drugs and alcohol while pregnant have a host of developmental problems as they age.

A new study published by researchers in Australia examines these long-term effects. They found that children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) were significantly behind their peers in testing and academic performance. They also found that by the time these children reached high school they were on a steady academic decline. Additionally, it was also noted that NAS children that are raised in tumultuous households are more likely to fall behind, but those that are taken out of the home and raised in foster care or placed with extended family are less likely to have the same level of difficulties.

In reaction to the release of this study, Dr. Steven Spedale, a neonatologist said, “I think these kids were a population we didn’t know we needed to focus on as we need to now. These children really do have problems that are progressive, so we need to follow them closely.”

This new study highlights the importance of improving prenatal care for mothers who have a history of drug abuse, and also continuously monitoring children who were born with the presence of drugs in their system. It can literally affect them for the rest of their lives.

Pregnant women who are drug-dependent are some of the most under-served people in terms of specialized treatment. Few centers will accept someone who is pregnant, and even fewer are able to care for their specific needs adequately.