Open Access Research article

Cocaine use during pregnancy assessed by hair analysis in a Canary Islands cohort

Xavier Joya123, Mario Gomez-Culebras4, Alicia Callejón4, Bibiana Friguls12356, Carme Puig123, Sandra Ortigosa12356, Luca Morini7, Oscar Garcia-Algar12356* and Oriol Vall12356

Author Affiliations

1 Unitat de Recerca Infància i Entorn (URIE), Institut de Recerca Parc de Salut Mar (IMIM-Parc de Salut Mar), Barcelona, Spain

2 Red de Salud Materno-Infantil y del Desarrollo (SAMID

3 Programa RETIC, Instituto Carlos III (ISCIII), Madrid, Spain

4 Departamento de Cirugía Pediátrica, Universidad de Tenerife, Spain

5 Servei de Pediatria, Parc de Salut Mar, Barcelona, Spain

6 Departament de Pediatria, Ginecologia i Obstetrícia i Medicina Preventiva, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), Barcelona, Spain

7 Department of Legal Medicine and Public Health, University of Pavia, Italy

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:2  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-2

Published: 9 January 2012



Drug use during pregnancy is difficult to ascertain, and maternal reports are likely to be inaccurate. The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of illicit drug use among pregnant women by using maternal hair analysis.


A toxicological analysis of hair was used to detect chronic recreational drug use during pregnancy. In 2007, 347 mother-infant dyads were included from the Hospital La Candelaria, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain). Data on socioeconomic characteristics and on substance misuse during pregnancy were collected using a structured questionnaire. Drugs of abuse: opiates, cocaine, cannabinoids and amphetamines were detected in maternal hair by immunoassay followed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry for confirmation and quantitation.


Hair analysis revealed 2.6% positivity for cocaine and its metabolites. Use of cocaine during pregnancy was associated with unusual behaviour with potentially harmful effects on the baby.


The results of the study demonstrate significant cocaine use by pregnant women in Canary Islands. The data should be used for the purpose of preventive health and policy strategies aimed to detect and possibly to avoid in the future prenatal exposure to drugs of abuse.