Newborns on ventilatory support often receive morphine to induce analgesia. Animal experiments suggest that this may impair subsequent cognitive and behavioral development. There are sparse human data on long-term effects of neonatal morphine. We aimed to investigate the effects of continuous morphine administered in the neonatal period on the child's functioning. We conducted a follow-up study among 5-year-olds who, as mechanically ventilated neonates, had participated in a placebo-controlled trial on effects of morphine administration on pain and neurologic outcome. They were now tested on intelligence, visual motor integration, behavior, chronic pain, and health-related quality of life. Univariate analyses showed significantly lower overall intelligence quotient (IQ) scores for children who earlier had received morphine, that is, mean 94 (SD 14.5) versus 100 (SD 12.9) for those who received placebo (P = 0.049). Other between-group differences in outcomes were not found. The statistical difference disappeared after correction for treatment condition, open-label morphine consumption over the first 28 days, and a propensity score for clinically relevant co-variables in multiple regression analyses. However, scores on one IQ subtest, "visual analysis," were significantly negatively related to having received morphine and to open-label morphine consumption the first 28 days. The finding of a significant effect of morphine on the "visual analysis" IQ subtest calls for follow-up at a later age focusing on the higher-order neurocognitive functions. Morphine received in the neonatal period has negative effects on the child's cognitive functioning at the age of 5 years which warrants follow-up at a later age.

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Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

de Graaf, J., van Lingen, R., Simons, S., Duivenvoorden, H., Weisglas-Kuperus, N., Roofthooft, D., … van Dijk, M. (2011). Long-term effects of routine morphine infusion in mechanically ventilated neonates on children's functioning: Five-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Pain, 152(6), 1391–1397. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2011.02.017