Heartbreaking Toll Of Babies Born Addicted To Drugs As Their Mums Refuse To Quit During Pregnancy

September 7, 2017
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Lib Dem researchers uncovered the shocking statistics using freedom of information requests to NHS trusts

Heartbreaking Toll Of Babies Born Addicted To Drugs As Their Mums Refuse To Quit During Pregnancy

More than 2,000 “junior junkie” babies have been born addicted to drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis in the past five years, heartbreaking figures reveal.

The shocking scandal of youngsters arriving in the world already hooked on hard drugs is laid bare after an investigation into neonatal abstinence syndrome.

It happens when a woman who has continued abusing substances while pregnant gives birth and the umbilical cord is cut.

The supply of drugs to the baby suddenly stops and the tot shows signs of physical withdrawal.

Pregnant women have been passing on habits to their unborn children (Image: Getty Images)
This “cold turkey” withdrawal process and effects are similar to those suffered by an adult who suddenly stops taking a drug or medication rather than being weaned off.

Symptoms can include a “continuous high-pitched cry”; fast breathing: “irritability and restlessness and scratching of their faces”; and shaking of arms and legs whether disturbed or resting.

Scores of children were found to have traces of cocaine in their little bodies
Other potential problems could include the tot struggling to feed, including the coordination of sucking and swallowing; not settling or sleeping after a feed; sickness, vomiting and diarrhoea; sweating and excessive sneezing, yawning or hiccups.

Lib Dem researchers launched a probe using freedom of information requests to NHS trusts across England – and discovered one baby a day on average is hit by neonatal abstinence syndrome when they are born.

In 2012-13 there were 485 cases – nine a week.

The toll of shame climbed to 510 in 2014-15 – an average of 10 a week – but dipped to 396 in 2016-17.



More than 100 tots were treated for the effects of heroin withdrawal (Image: Getty)

In total, 2,309 babies were born showing symptoms on NAS, according to NHS Trusts which responded.

Not all Trusts which responded to the freedom of information request revealed which drugs the babies were found to have in the systems.

But of those that did, a total of 103 were treated for the effects of heroin withdrawal and 128 for heroin substitute methadone.

Another 65 were found to have cocaine in their tiny bodies, while 25 were riddled with cannabis.

Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust dealt with 181 babies, the Pennine Acute Trust treated 155 babies and the North Lincolnshire and Goole 136.

However, not all provide data, suggesting the true numbers will be even higher.

Twenty-five youngsters had cannabis in their systems (Image: Getty)
Online guidance provided by one NHS Trust says: “Most babies exposed to drugs/medication during pregnancy will experience some symptoms after birth.

“Some may only show signs of mild withdrawal, requiring no more than the usual care given to all babies.

“However, there are some babies who may have moderate or severe withdrawal symptoms which affects how well they feed and sleep.

“These babies may require more specialised care and medical treatment to help them as they withdraw (as an adult would during a planned detox).


The NHS has spent millions of pounds treating neonatal abstinence syndrome (Image: Getty)

“Each baby is an individual so there is no way of knowing the severity of withdrawal symptoms your baby may experience after birth.”

While most babies do not need medical treatment, the NHS spent £7.7million over five years helping babies suffering from the syndrome.

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron said: “These shocking figures are both horrific and tragic.

“It shows how much more needs to be done to help those in need.

“We need to move drugs from a criminal issue to one of health, no child should ever be in this situation.

“The NHS need to invest much more cash in specialist medics to help addicted mums-to-be.

“I have been told by doctors that in some cases they have seen have to be given opiates to wean babies off hard drugs after being born with symptoms such as fever, severe vomiting and diarrhoea.



Tim Farron said the figures were heartbreaking (Image: Getty)

“It frankly breaks my heart. We need to do more to help these families and babies.”

Neonatal abstinence syndrome symptoms can last from one week up to months and withdrawal depends on the medicines or drugs — and the amounts — the baby was exposed to during pregnancy.

Children who do not need medication to control NAS may still be kept in hospital for up to a week.

Public Health England’s director of drugs Rosanna O’Connor said: “We support local authorities in delivering tailored, effective services where people stand the best chance of recovery.

“We expect drug treatment and maternity services to work together to ensure pregnant women get the support they need, giving their babies the best possible start in life.”

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