Shocking number of babies born drug addicts in Preston

Rise in newborns having to be given treatment for withdrawal of drugs
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Drug-dependent newborns had to be given withdrawal treatment around 100 times at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust in 2019-20.

Morphine and methadone were among substances given to babies to wean them from drugs used in pregnancy by their mothers.

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NHS figures for the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust show the number of recorded medical interventions linked to what is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) rose from 55 in 2018-19 to 100 in 2019-20.

Number of treatments for drug-dependent newborns rises at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals TrustNumber of treatments for drug-dependent newborns rises at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust
Number of treatments for drug-dependent newborns rises at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust

Where there are fewer than eight cases an exact number is not given to preserve anonymity while other figures are rounded to the nearest five.

NAS results from unborn babies being exposed to addictive, often opiate-based drugs like heroin, codeine or benzodiazepines like diazepam.

Drug-dependent infants can soon develop severe withdrawal symptoms, signs of which include a continuous high-pitched cry, feeding problems, profuse vomiting, tremors, face scratching and convulsions.

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Treatment involves weaning the baby from the drug on which it is dependent, with morphine often used when mothers have been taking opioids.

The true scale of the issue is likely to be greater than figures suggest, given that many infants born with drug dependency will not require medication.

In 2017-18, 20 hospital trusts in England recorded around 20 or more medical interventions - in 2019-20, 59 did.

Experts believe up to 80 per cent of drug-exposed infants develop the syndrome, with some babies continuing to have symptoms up to six months after discharge from hospital.

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Symptoms associated with NAS do not only occur with the use of illicit substances but can also be due to the consumption of prescription drugs.

In some cases, babies born with NAS will be taken into care.

Dr Alison Wright, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said substance use during pregnancy could have a serious impact on the health and bonding of mother and baby.

She warned that "complex barriers" stood in the way of mothers-to-be disclosing their drug use but urged women to seek help.

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Dr Wright said: “We would encourage all pregnant women who use recreational drugs to speak to their GP, obstetrician or midwife, who will be able to offer non-judgemental and appropriate advice, help and support."

Health service guidelines state that pregnant women misusing substances need “supportive and coordinated care” during pregnancy and that healthcare staff should work with social care professionals to overcome barriers to care for them in a coordinated way.

Sharon Mallett, Director of Nursing at drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You, said drug-using mothers often experienced "overwhelming guilt and shame" and called for midwives and other experts to work together to create non-judgemental environments.

She added: "The earlier parents seek support the more positive the results are for both the mother and child. That’s why it’s really important not to judge mothers who do come forward around this issue."