Drug-addicted babies increase

Saturday, 18 June 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Drug-addicted babies are on the rise in Australia. Surveys have indicated that a steady increase is being recorded in the different states.

It is the mothers’ illicit drug habit and other addictions, including alcohol that has been identified as the prime cause for the increase. 

In Western Australia, the specialised withdrawal clinic for babies has recorded the highest number in six years. Last year 125 babies had been treated for addiction at the King Edward Memorial Hospital as compared with 98 cases the previous year – a 27% rise.

Experts have warned that the real figure for affected babies could be much higher as some drug abuse by mothers was undetected. Also mothers using ice may not always show obvious and serious side effects until they were older. 

Ice is a stimulant drug which speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the body. It is a type of methamphetamine, a stronger and more addictive drug which has more harmful side effects. Ice has got its name because it usually comes as small chunky clear crystals that look like ice. It also comes as white or brownish crystal-like powder with a strong smell and bitter taste.

According to medical authorities, drug withdrawal in babies is diagnosed by assessing whether a mother has used drugs during pregnancy and monitoring the behaviour of babies according to a specific score sheet. Symptoms of drug withdrawal include tremors, irritability, sneezing, poor weight and vomiting. 

The Child Protection Department figures show that since last July, there have been 101childen placed in care within seven days of birth, compared with 94 cases for 2014-15.

A problem faced by the child protection authorities is keeping the baby away from the mother immediately after birth. Although they consider is “just horrific” to separate the mother and the baby at birth, they are also concerned with the safety of the baby in leaving the baby with a drug-addicted mother or there are mental health and violence issues. 

Every effort is made to help the mother stay in the same home as the baby. Sometimes the baby is placed with relatives and the mother is also allowed to be there if she can stick to the rules. 

Meanwhile, more research is being done into what long-term impact ice use by pregnant women has on babies. 

Voluntary organisations are active in helping drug and alcohol addicts, some with special programmes to help mothers with children. Cyrenian House, for example, is a not-for-profit non-governmental organisation with a wide range of programmes – both residential and non-residential – for people with drug and alcohol problems. 

Its Saranna Women and Children’s Program is a residential alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment program where women can live with their children whilst engaging in AOD treatment. Each family is accommodated in their own individual house on the property. 

To enable mothers to fully participate in the treatment program children attend a local primary school, or its purpose-built childcare centre located in the grounds of the property.