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Foundational Research

Estimates of Illicit Drug use During Pregnancy by Maternal Interview, Hair Analysis, and Meconium Analysis

Ostrea EM Jr, Knapp DK, Tannenbaum L, Ostrea AR, Romero A, Salari V, Ager J. J Pediatr

First published: March 12,  2001

Affiliation: Department of Pediatrics, Hutzel Hospital and Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan 48201, USA.


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Objective: To compare the sensitivity and specificity of a maternal interview, maternal hair analysis, and meconium analysis in detecting perinatal exposure to cocaine, opiate, and cannabinoid.

Design/methods: The use of cocaine, opiate, and cannabinoid during pregnancy was determined prospectively in 58 women by 3 methods: structured maternal interview, maternal hair analysis, and meconium analyses. The results of the 3 methods were compared with one another.

Results: The maternal interview showed the lowest sensitivity in detecting cocaine and opiate exposures (65% and 67%, respectively), but it had the highest sensitivity in detecting cannabinoid exposure (58%). Both hair and meconium analyses had high sensitivity for detecting cocaine or opiate exposures. Hair analysis had a sensitivity of 100% for cocaine and 80% for opiate detection. However, it had a false-positive rate of 13% for cocaine and 20% for opiate, probably as a result of passive exposure. Meconium analysis had a sensitivity of 87% for cocaine and 77% for opiate detection, but unlike hair analysis, it had no false-positive test results for cocaine. Both hair and meconium analyses had low sensitivity in detecting cannabinoid exposure (21%-22.7%), most probably because of the sporadic use of cannabinoids.

Conclusion: Meconium and hair analyses had the highest sensitivities for detecting perinatal use of cocaine and opiate but not for cannabinoids. The principal drawback of hair analysis is its potential for false-positive test results associated with passive exposure to drugs. The maternal interview is a time-consuming test of low sensitivity. The high sensitivity of meconium analysis and the ease of collection make this test ideal for perinatal drug screening.

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